An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Roll number: 91497A
Date of inspection: 1 May 2007
Date of issue of report: 6 December 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject
Physical Education is being delivered by two, fully qualified physical education teachers and the subject is compulsory for all year groups except in sixth year, where students are allowed to opt for an additional study period if they wish. It is recommended that the school review this practice with a view to making participation in Physical Education compulsory for all year groups. It has to be borne in mind that for some students, particularly those not involved in extracurricular sport or physical activity at school or club level, the weekly physical education lesson may be the only vigorous physical activity in which they engage. As a variety of publications have also pointed to high drop-out rates from physical activity among students in their mid-to-late teens (National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005), it is incumbent on schools nationally to do whatever they can to promote participation in physical activity among all students in order to help prevent the negative health effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle. There is a danger that, by making participation in physical education lessons optional for students in sixth year, some students may inadvertently gain the impression that participation in physical activity is something that can be discarded as they are preparing for examinations. The school should do whatever it can to counter this perception.
While participation in Physical Education should not be optional, it would not be inappropriate, however, that senior cycle students, particularly sixth-year students, be afforded some role in deciding the nature of the activity in which they are involved in physical education lessons. They could also be given some responsibility, under the supervision of the teacher, for the organisation and running of certain activities within physical education lessons. This should help to ensure a greater sense of engagement among all sixth-year students and could be viewed as an acknowledgement of their increased maturity and right to take responsibility for their own learning. The physical education department is mindful of the need to engage more students at senior cycle in Physical Education and it is suggested that, as part of this process, the department canvasses the views of senior cycle students as to the type of activities they would like to see included in the senior cycle physical education curriculum.
The difficulties experienced by the school in
motivating students to participate in Physical Education in senior cycle,
particularly in sixth year, can be seen, in part, as a function of the short
time allocated to the subject in previous years. The time allocation of just a
single period per week for most year groups makes it difficult for the physical
education teachers to achieve the aims of Department of Education and Science
syllabuses and also leads to a less than satisfactory experience for students.
As the teacher has to allow students time to change at the start of each lesson
and allow time for them to change and possibly shower at the end of the lesson,
the time available for actual physical activity can consequently be as little
as twenty minutes in a lesson of thirty-five minutes’ duration. Although
overcrowding in the school timetable, particularly at junior cycle, is cited as
the reason for this time allocation, it has to be accepted that the allocation
of a single period is not sufficient to allow any in-depth learning to take
place in Physical Education. It is therefore recommended that the school
revisit the timetabling arrangements for Physical Education and works towards the
provision of two hours of Physical Education per week for all students as
recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes
for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. The provision of this time allocation can
be expected to greatly enhance the experience of all students in Physical
Education and, as has been observed through the Physical Education School Sport
and Club Links Strategy (PESSCL) in the
Physical Education is well resourced in the school, with requisite materials available to enable a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education to be delivered. The facilities available for the teaching of the subject are excellent and include an indoor hall, two grass pitches and two outdoor courts suitable for tennis or basketball. These facilities are very well maintained and the school is commended for its willingness to also use external facilities, such as a swimming pool and fitness suite available in two nearby towns. The use of these facilities enables the school to deliver core elements of physical education syllabuses that could not be delivered were it to rely solely on its own facilities. It is also commendable that management has seen fit to allocate duties in relation to the co-ordination of Physical Education as part of the work load of a special duties post of responsibility as this indicates an awareness of the need to promote Physical Education effectively in the school.
The school has been involved in the School Development Planning Initiative for some years now and subject planning in relation to Physical Education in the school is excellent. Staff are facilitated to meet for subject-department meetings which take place regularly throughout the school year. The subject plan for Physical Education contains a wealth of resource information and detailed, focused planning in relation to how the physical education department can meet the educational needs of students. Among the items contained in the subject plan are the aims and objectives of Physical Education in the school, the aims of particular topics in the physical education syllabus, the structure of Physical Education in the school and the curriculum overview, health and safety procedures, personal hygiene procedures, cross-curricular planning and the use of effective teaching methodologies.
A detailed scheme of activities has been produced for junior cycle with all of the core aspects of Physical Education covered, with the exception of aquatics. It is accepted that providing aquatics is not possible within the current timetabled allocation of a single period to Physical Education. The time constraints imposed on the physical education teachers also means that they are limited in the depth of learning that they can offer in any particular activity. Thus, while the physical education teachers are doing their utmost to provide a broad range of activities, it is difficult for students to acquire any substantial depth of knowledge and understanding of a particular activity in lessons of forty minutes’ duration. Where such circumstances exist there is a consequent risk that the physical education curriculum may be implemented as an “exposure” type curriculum where students experience a variety of activities but are not afforded an opportunity for substantive learning in any one area. The physical education subject plan indicates an awareness of this shortcoming on the part of the physical education department and this awareness, together with plans to raise the status of the subject among all bodies associated with the school, including management, staff and parents, is highly commended. The school is not part of the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus, although it is accepted that the physical education teachers use much of the JCPE syllabus materials in the delivery of the physical education programme at junior cycle. As the implementation of this syllabus can be expected to impact positively on the experience of all students at junior cycle it is recommended that the school formally implement this syllabus as soon as is practicable as it has both the facilities and qualified personnel required to do so.
An interesting and varied range of activities is
provided in Transition Year (TY). The physical education department strive to
provide unique learning opportunities for students, such as the opportunity to
participate in physical activity as a coach or an administrator. TY students
are thus involved in leadership lessons and in the organisation of the
first-year sports day where they learn to work collaboratively and gain a
valuable insight into the complexities of organising such an event. The
provision of such learning opportunities is highly commended. Other activities
in which TY students are involved include aquatics, participating in an
overnight outdoor education trip to an outdoor education centre and working
with students with special educational needs from a local special school.
The physical education department is aware of the desirability of avoiding the use of fitness tests as a competitive measure of student performance or achievement and, with this in mind, uses the “bleep test” to allow students to make judgements regarding their own developing fitness levels at various times of the year. It is recommended that caution be exercised in the use of maximal tests, such as the bleep test, however, as this test requires students to work close to their physiological limits. It is suggested that sub-maximal tests, such as the step test, be used in place of the bleep test to support learning in the area of cardio-respiratory fitness. In addition to this, the use of a broad range of non-invasive physical tests may be useful in educating students regarding the developmental aspects of other areas of physical fitness. The equipment available to the physical education department, such as the peak flow meter, height meter and weights equipment may prove useful in lessons in which the various components of physical fitness are being dealt with and may also allow students to gain information regarding their own developing physical fitness in a number of areas.
A healthy culture of extracurricular physical activity is evident in the school, with large numbers of both boys and girls involved. The role of extracurricular activity and how it links with the overall aims of the physical education programme are dealt with in the subject plan. The philosophy underpinning the school’s extracurricular sports programme, whereby it is designed to encourage students to associate positively with physical activity, is commended. This philosophy values the inclusion of all students and stresses the value of diversity and of providing a broad range of learning experiences. Among the main activities provided are soccer, hurling and camogie, basketball, Gaelic football and rugby with some pitch and putt also taking place. The voluntary commitment of a significant number of staff in the school to the ongoing provision of these activities is highly commended, as it has the capacity to impact positively on the attitude of students to lifelong participation in sport and physical activity.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good with all lessons benefiting from thorough, purposeful planning which included the preparation of a range of class materials in advance of lessons. This is commendable and was just one of the many excellent strategies which teachers had developed to maximise the use of the short time available in single-period lessons. Such strategies typically included a brief roll call at the start of each lesson and an explanation of lesson content while students were engaged in stretching exercises during the warm-up phase of the lesson. During this phase of the lesson teachers recapped briefly on learning that had taken place in previous lessons, thus creating a natural link between lessons and consolidating previous learning. This practice is commended. The cool-down phase of the lesson was also often used to recap on learning as students were performing stretching exercises aimed at gently easing the body from a high to low level of activity. This is considered a very efficient means of organising lessons and the high levels of co-operation forthcoming from students, in getting changed quickly at both the start and end of these lessons, also helped to maximise the use of available time.
Tasks which were set for students in all lessons were challenging and appropriate to their developmental age and ability. A lesson on health-related activity, in which the key concepts were dealt with through participation in basketball, was very successful in teaching students both the principles of attack and defence and also about the effect of exercise on the body. Learning in both areas was handled very successfully by the teacher and the quality of students’ performances, together with responses to questioning, indicated a high level of engagement and learning by students. In all lessons, questioning was used very effectively to elicit learning. Students were questioned as to stretching exercises appropriate to various muscle groups at the start of lessons and further questioning during lessons was very successful in maintaining high levels of concentration among students. The use of small groups of students for demonstrations was similarly effective, particularly when the teacher asked the remainder of the class to look for certain key performance indicators while observing. This had the effect of focussing both the performers and the observers on the key concepts being covered. The use of such strategies is highly commended. An orienteering lesson observed was also very successful in maintaining high levels of student engagement and the splitting of a treble-period lesson into team challenge and orienteering activities worked very well. It is suggested however, that students engaged in orienteering would have benefited from some time to reflect on the choices they had made in attempting to complete the tasks set. In order to facilitate this, a shorter course could be set thereby allowing students the opportunity to plan, execute and review their response to these set tasks. Such an approach is regarded as more effective in consolidating learning as it engages students at a higher cognitive level than can be achieved by providing them solely with an opportunity to complete a set course. Discussions among students as to the reasons why they made certain choices, and the success or failure of the strategies employed, can also be very useful in facilitating peer-to-peer learning and it is suggested that a re-balancing of the lesson to allow more time for planning and reflection would allow such learning to take place. A volleyball lesson again involved students in a range of drills and practices that challenged them both physically and cognitively and students’ responses to the tasks set indicated a good level of learning. The short duration of this lesson again forced the teacher to compromise some aspects of learning, however, with insufficient time available for the teacher to give a very detailed explanation of the techniques involved in all skills being learned. As the teacher quite rightly placed the emphasis on high levels of student activity during the lesson, all of the key points of skills such as the smash could not be adequately covered. It is suggested that, where time constraints make it impractical to adequately cover such a skill in one lesson, the skill be revisited in subsequent lessons so that key learning points, such as the need to take off with two feet to avoid hitting the net, can be emphasised.
All lessons took place in a positive learning environment and students received regular affirmation for their efforts from teachers. This was very successful in motivating students toward greater efforts and, where correction was required, this was dealt with very sensitively, with individual students being given clear information as to how they could improve. Students co-operated fully with their teachers and each other and displayed a positive attitude to participation in Physical Education at all times.
The system of assessment in place in Physical Education in the school is good. Assessment strategies outlined in the subject plan include the use of observation and questioning, informal assessment of the student’s level of participation, behaviour and attitude and the use of self and peer assessment. Records are maintained of students’ attendance and participation in physical education lessons and these records are used to inform reporting in Physical Education which takes place twice per year. In these reports the inclusion of a comment on the overall performance and effort level of students in physical education lessons is regarded as appropriate to the nature of the subject. It is also regarded as good practice that the physical education department has arranged for a range of comments, specific to Physical Education, to be included in the computer software package used for reporting. In order to further develop the system of assessment and reporting in Physical Education it is recommended that the physical education department examine methods to objectively assess learning in Physical Education.
The physical education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings and are also available by appointment to meet with parents as the need arises.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.