An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Pobalscoil Na Trionóide
Youghal, County Cork
Roll number: 91513S
Date of inspection: 1 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Pobalscoil Na Trionóide. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited lessons and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
The school opened in September 2006, following an amalgamation of the three second-level schools in the town. These schools were Coláiste Eoin, a school run by the County Cork Vocational Education Committee (VEC), Loreto Secondary School and Christian Brothers Secondary School. It currently has an enrolment of 889 students, 450 of whom are boys and 439 of whom are girls. Physical Education is well provided for in the school with three fully qualified physical education teachers on staff who bring a wealth of experience and vibrancy to the organisation and delivery of Physical Education in the school. In addition to these qualified personnel, timetabling difficulties have resulted in the management also timetabling one other teacher, who is not a qualified physical education teacher, to teach a small amount of Physical Education. Although this teacher holds some certification in areas relevant to Physical Education and is a competent, conscientious professional, best practice in relation to health and safety as well as quality of provision in Physical Education would be that only qualified physical education teachers are timetabled to take lessons in Physical Education. Management is aware of this and it is accepted that this timetabling arrangement is in response to short-term timetabling difficulties which management expects to be able to resolve in future years.
Similar difficulties, chiefly in relation to maintaining some of the timetabling practices in the schools which were amalgamated to form Pobalscoil na Trionóide, have created some ongoing problems in relation to the timetabling of Physical Education in the school. Although management is committed to providing at least a double period of Physical Education for all classes in the school, this does not currently take place with regard to some classes. Although all junior cycle classes have two periods of Physical Education per week, there are some classes for whom this provision is in the form of two single periods. This is unsatisfactory as single periods allow very little actual activity time for students. It also creates difficulties for the physical education teachers in relation to trying to achieve the aims of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus in which the school is involved. In senior cycle some classes also have two single periods of Physical Education and it is noted that some students in fifth year have lost the second of their two periods of Physical Education and are using this time as a study period. Other students in sixth year have lost the second of their two periods of Physical Education due to taking subject options in Geography and Applied Maths. This, again, is unsatisfactory as a student should not have to forego participation in Physical Education as a result of making particular option choices in relation to other subjects. As the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 recommend a minimum of two hours of Physical Education per student per week, and as the provisions of circular M15/05 make it clear that a minimum of a double period of Physical Education is required to achieve the aims of the JCPE syllabus, it is recommended that management review timetabling arrangements in relation to Physical Education with a view to resolving these issues. It is further recommended that the school regularly review timetabled provision in relation to Physical Education as part of subject development planning to make sure it meets the evolving needs of the school as its own, post-amalgamation culture and ethos becomes established.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are excellent and include a full-sized physical education hall including fitness suite in the balcony area, a full-sized GAA pitch, an additional grassed area and three separate hardcourt areas. All of these facilities are very well maintained and are fully utilised by the physical education department. There is also a plentiful supply of equipment and materials, sufficient to ensure the delivery of all core aspects of the physical education curriculum. Additional material is purchased, as required, following a written request to management and no reasonable request for such material is refused.
There is an excellent level of planning in Physical Education, both at whole-school and subject level. Individual lessons were very well planned and operated smoothly as a result. In many lessons, resource and stimulus materials, including handouts, music and worksheets, had been prepared before hand. This added greatly to the learning experience of students and was a considerable aid to maintaining students’ interest and engagement.
It is commendable that the school is involved in the implementation of the JCPE syllabus and that the core areas of the syllabus are covered in physical education lessons. It is noted that four-week units of activity are planned at present and it is recommended that this be increased to between six and eight weeks. The current time allocation of four weeks is considered insufficient for students to acquire any substantial depth of knowledge and understanding in particular disciplines. Although this may lead to a reduction in the number of activities that the school covers as part of the JCPE syllabus, the inter-disciplinary learning which takes place in many activities in Physical Education will help to compensate for this. As such, learning with regard to principles of play and tactics in invasion games in particular, can be transferred from one activity to another, thus obviating the need to cover a wide range of invasion games, for example. Extending the units of learning can therefore be expected to allow more in-depth engagement with each topic and will also facilitate the use of rich task methodologies. The use of these methodologies is considered appropriate to the JCPE syllabus as it provides opportunities for greater variety of learning styles and allows students to engage in meaningful learning in Physical Education through a range of different avenues.
Planning in senior cycle is also age-appropriate and the stated intention of giving senior cycle students increased freedom and encouraging them to take more responsibility for their own learning is applauded. Structuring the senior cycle programme in this manner helps to create a natural transition from school life to after-school life and can provide students with essential skills to make informed judgements about their later involvement in sport and physical activity. Activities which are particularly noteworthy in this regard include work on the development of leadership skills which is provided as an extracurricular activity by one of the physical education teachers.
A subject co-ordinator has been appointed by the physical education teachers and it is considered good practice that this role is rotated among the physical education teachers from time to time. Management is also commended for allocating time for formal subject planning meetings in Physical Education and these take place three to four times per year. It is also commendable that the physical education teachers are facilitated to attend continuing professional development opportunities that arise as this helps to keep the department up to date with developments in Physical Education. The physical education plan is a thorough, well-considered document that outlines all aspects of the planning, delivery and structure of Physical Education within the school. Among the items dealt with in the plan are the aims of Physical Education in the school, information downloaded from various websites regarding high-quality Physical Education, health and safety including the identification of specific hazards in Physical Education, the short, medium and long-term plans for the subject, assessment information and detailed schemes of work for each area of the JCPE syllabus. Such is the high-quality level of planning in evidence that individual lesson plans which were provided for many lessons included detail of the learning outcomes, resources, timing of activities, differentiated teaching strategies, cross-curricular links, assessment for learning opportunities and strategies for dealing with the special educational needs of particular students. The physical education department is highly commended for their efforts in this area.
Opportunities are also provided for the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the teaching of Physical Education. The physical education teachers can arrange access to one of the school’s ICT suites and a booking sheet is available in the staff room for this purpose. This is commended. The greater integration of ICT into the teaching of Physical Education is to be encouraged as it can develop research skills, add variety to the learning experience and open up new learning opportunities for students.
In Transition Year (TY), some interesting and novel activities are provided. These include self-defence which is provided by a member of an Garda Siochána, First-Aid and a residential outdoor education trip to an outdoor education centre. The fact that students have the opportunity to participate in this latter activity as part of their Gaisce awards is commended, as it provides a focus for this learning and can be very motivational for students. As TY is intended to provide students with opportunities to participate in activities which are not normally part of the traditional school curriculum, the provision of these activities is commended. It is recommended that the physical education department keep the range of activities provided under regular review so as to continue to provide a range of interesting and challenging activities for students. In particular, any opportunity to introduce new activities which have not previously been offered by the school should be considered.
A wide range of extracurricular physical activities are provided that help to complement learning in Physical Education. The philosophy of the physical education department in providing sporting opportunities for as many students as possible in the extracurricular arena, in the hope of encouraging a healthy lifestyle, is commended as a natural extension of learning in physical education lessons. Activities provided include Gaelic football, camógie, hurling, basketball, rugby, hockey, golf, tennis, athletics, cross-country running, orienteering and soccer. The commitment of teachers, both physical education teachers and teachers without physical education teaching qualifications, to providing these activities is highly commended and the significant number of students involved is a reflection of how positively these activities are being received by the student cohort.
The quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education in the lessons observed during the inspection was very good. All lessons had a clear structure and were part of a coherent block of learning in which clear aims and objectives had been outlined. Each individual lesson, planned as part of a block of learning, also had clear aims and objectives, with each lesson building on learning that had taken place previously. This high-quality planning meant that lessons operated very smoothly and provided an increased cognitive and physical challenge to students from lesson to lesson.
All lessons began promptly and mobility and stretching exercises performed as part of a warm-up succeeded in preparing students for more vigorous activity. Excellent teacher questioning, which was a notable feature of all lessons, challenged students to identify the names of the muscle groups being stretched and to identify the correct technique for the stretching of particular muscles. Students performed these exercises very well and are clearly accustomed to performing a thorough warm-up prior to activity. This is considered good practice as is the practice observed of integrating warm-up activities with the topic being dealt with in the remainder of the lesson. This phase of the lesson was often skilfully used by the teacher to recap on learning that had taken place in previous lessons and to clearly identify the objectives of the current lesson. This, again, is commended as it helps to put the lesson in context with previous lessons and helps students to become critical, reflective performers through providing them with a clear focus for learning in the current lesson. The practice, observed in many lessons, of outlining the material to be covered in subsequent lessons is also beneficial in assisting students to place learning in context.
The range of activities and tasks set in all lessons was very well planned and provided an excellent cognitive and physical challenge for students. Teachers were quick to adjust these tasks, depending on the level of performance of students. Excellent differentiated teaching strategies were observed in many lessons, with opportunities provided for a variety of correct responses to the tasks set. This allowed some students to successfully complete tasks at a basic level while others were encouraged to challenge themselves by answering the task at a more demanding level. Thus students who were performing a bounce pass during a basketball lesson were allowed to move closer to their partner, if they felt they lacked sufficient power to pass the ball from the initial distance, and other students were encouraged to move further away, at their own discretion. This approach is highly commended as it helps to provide a supportive learning environment for students, in which all of their efforts are valued and acknowledged and in which they can all achieve success. Conditioned games which were played at the end of lessons on Gaelic football challenged students to apply learning dealt with earlier in the lesson and thus were very successful in reinforcing this learning.
The use of focused, individually directed and group questioning was particularly impressive in most lessons and enabled students to link learning in various aspects of Physical Education. A junior cycle dance lesson, for example, involved students in excellent inter-disciplinary learning where particular sporting activities were used as a stimulus for a short dance sequence. At the end of this lesson, students were asked to recall the key concepts which were the focus of the lesson. The writing of key terms on the whiteboard at the start of the lesson was an aid to this process as was the clear outlining of lesson objectives, in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning. Questioning was also used to encourage recall of previous learning as well as to reinforce learning in the current lesson. Thus students who were performing a pivot during a basketball lesson, for example, were asked to recall the key points for performing this skill and were able to identify these and specific infringements of the rules associated with the incorrect performance of the skill. Teacher questioning during a lesson on Gaelic football expertly assisted students in making the link between time and space as key principles of attack and defence. The benefits of changing direction in a “V” or “L” shape in order to create space was also clearly explained to students in a very tangible manner, where the setting down of cones in these shapes was a significant help to students’ understanding.
Senior cycle students worked very well, independently of teacher direction, when using the school’s excellent fitness suite. Providing these students with opportunities to work independently and in small groups is considered very good practice and students clearly valued such opportunities. In order to further develop learning in this area it is suggested that students work on designing and implementing their own fitness programmes with opportunities provided for individual and group reflection on these after a block of learning. Such an approach can involve students in active research on the physiological basis for exercise, can promote self-awareness and self-evaluation and can further enhance their autonomy in the learning process. As already mentioned, this approach should also facilitate their transition from school to adult life by providing them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for lifelong involvement in physical activity.
The atmosphere in all lessons was excellent, with students co-operating fully with their teachers and each other and applying themselves thoroughly to their work. Teachers moved with ease from group to group, and from individual to individual, to provide specific advice and encouragement to students as required. The calm, relaxed, business-like teaching style adopted by teachers was conducive to excellent class management. Discipline was unforced and it was obvious that clear expectations for students’ behaviour have been established and are being routinely followed.
An excellent range of assessment strategies is in place in Physical Education in the school. A grade, based on the achievement of students during a block of learning, and a comment, based on their overall performance and attitude to participation in physical education lessons, is included in written reports that are sent home four times per year. This level of reporting in Physical Education is commended. Physical education teachers also attend all parent-teacher meetings.
In order to objectively assess learning in Physical Education, the physical education department has identified descriptors of attainment levels for each activity. This is considered exemplary practice and helps the physical education teachers and students reference a particular performance level to a particular grade. These descriptors are used in the assessment of students’ learning during formal, practical assessment events. Other assessment instruments used include the completion of worksheets and written tests. It is noted that the performance of students in these tests, as well as informal assessment through observation in physical education lessons, is used to influence planning in Physical Education. This is also considered excellent practice.
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.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The Board of Management welcomes the publication of the “P.E.” subject inspection “report” of 13th February 2008. The Board compliments all members of the school community on their contribution to a very positive and fair report.
Area 2 Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection
The Board of Management plans to have all P.E. classes taken by teachers who have appropriate qualifications in accordance with D.E.S. recommendations.
The Board of Management plans include the provision of P.E. to all students in the school community (preferably and where possible) in double classes only.
The school will review on a regular basis, the length of blocks allocated to teaching the various topics in J.C.P.E.