An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Sancta Maria College
Ballyroan, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
Roll number: 60341P
Date of inspection: 20 April 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 inspection conducted as part of a whole school evaluation in Sancta Maria College. 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 two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, 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.
Sancta Maria College is an all girls’ secondary school with a present enrolment of 539 students. The school offers a range of curricular programmes to cater for the educational needs of its students. Physical Education is a core subject at junior cycle, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA). All junior cycle classes receive two periods of Physical Education per week. The school has recently conducted a junior cycle curriculum review, which resulted in some year groups receiving an increased allocation for Physical Education from one single period to two periods per week, which is highly commendable. It is also commendable that management has endeavoured to timetable these two periods as one double period as this works best for the subject given its practical nature. It is recommended that management strive to timetable all classes with at least one double period per week.
The timetable allocation for TY Physical Education follows best practice with the provision of a full afternoon for the subject, which facilitates the involvement of students in a range of onsite and off-site activities. All TY classes are timetabled concurrently and this facilitates the organisation of a range of activity modules and opportunities for team teaching. LCA students receive one double period of Physical Education per week and it is commendable that this time is used to follow the prescribed Leisure and Recreation Syllabus. Whilst the established Leaving Certificate students receive Physical Education on their timetable, it is regrettable that students who follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) are excluded from the subject. This situation arises because Physical Education is timetabled opposite the LCVP link modules. A quality Physical Education programme strives to provide students with an opportunity to study all aspects underpinning involvement in physical activity, exercise and sport and to learn about the range of physical, health-related, social and psychological benefits that may accrue as a result of including daily physical activity into one’s lifestyle. Therefore, management is encouraged to work towards providing every student in the school with access to quality Physical Education in line with the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (Pages 7, 141).
Management supports the continuing professional development of teachers and it is commendable that attendance at inservice for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus has been facilitated during the current year. The Physical Education department consists of four teachers, only one of whom holds recognised qualifications in the subject. The deployment of teachers to the subject may vary from year to year in the school, with the exception of the qualified Physical Education teacher, who is fully deployed in the subject. It is best practice that only teachers with recognised qualifications in Physical Education be deployed to teach the subject. It is acknowledged that the non-specialist teachers currently deployed to teach the subject have experience in coaching games, and are to be commended for their commitment to the provision of physical activity for students. However, due to limitations in the depth of these teachers’ expertise, what is actually taking place is a programme of well-organised and supervised activity rather than Physical Education. Additionally there may be a health and safety risk associated with deploying non-Physical Education professionals to take timetabled lessons in the subject. Therefore, it is recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications to teach Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject to optimise the teaching and learning in the subject.
The school has a small sports hall as well as a general-purpose hall and both are used for appropriate Physical Education modules. A small cupboard used as a dedicated storeroom, is well maintained and contains sufficient equipment to support a relatively diverse range of physical activities. A requisition system is in place for the purchase of additional and replacement items and is reported to be working well. Students change for their Physical Education lessons in their classrooms, as there are no dedicated changing rooms. A new full size astro-turf pitch has been developed in collaboration with a neighbouring GAA club. This pitch is used during Physical Education lessons for athletics and a range of invasion and fielding games and provides an ideal spacious environment for students. In addition, the GAA club is developing a new all-weather pitch as well as a regulation size pitch, which will be at the school’s disposal for use during the school day and for extra-curricular activities immediately after school. The school is highly commended for its collaboration with the GAA club to share these facilities and this collaboration serves as an example of best practice in resource utilisation. The school has an application with the Department of Education and Science (DES) planning and building unit for an extensive building project and is currently at phase two of the approval procedure. A new sports hall and changing facilities are planned as part of the new school building and, once completed, the provision of these additional facilities will ensure that Sancta Maria College can provide a first-class learning environment for Physical Education.
The school is highly commended for its support of a wide range of extra-curricular games and physical activities including athletics, badminton, basketball, camógie, Gaelic football and hockey. Training for these activities takes place at lunchtime, after school and some Saturday mornings. It is commendable that all students are encouraged and facilitated to participate in some form of extra-curricular activity and these are organised for students who may wish to participate either at a recreational or competitive level. A system has been established whereby students are elected as games captain, vice-captain and games secretary for each of the extra-curricular activities. These students assist in the administration and organisation of the participants, training and competitions. This is highly commendable practice as it empowers students to take ownership of their participation and support for the physical activity culture of the school. The involvement of staff in the organisation and coaching of these activities is especially noteworthy. The role of the non-specialist teachers in the provision of extra-curricular activities and in establishing and maintaining a physical activity culture in the school is to be highly commended. The school’s achievements in a variety of competitive sports at regional and national level are testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved.
Formal planning meetings are facilitated by management and take place twice a year. However this is often restricted to only two members of the department although informal consultation between all members takes place on a regular basis. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded and indicate that a range of issues dealing with subject provision and curriculum organisation has been discussed and prioritised which is commendable. At present, there is no formal coordination of the subject plan and each teacher organises their own programme of activities. This situation arises because the timetabling of non-specialist Physical Education teachers may vary from year to year, thus presenting problems for establishing continuity of practice and programme provision. It is best practice that students work to a common programme to ensure that they receive a comprehensive Physical Education as they progress through their school years. This ensures that relevant knowledge and skills are developed in a systematic and progressive manner appropriate to the interests, ability and age of the students. It is recommended that the issues affecting subject planning be addressed to ensure that all students receive as comprehensive a Physical Education programme as possible given the present restrictions.
It is commendable that teachers who do not hold Physical Education qualifications seek the advice of the qualified Physical Education teacher and only plan for activities that they feel competent to organise and supervise. In these cases, games orientated content plans have been developed and commendable strategies have been identified to structure activity blocks to include skill development and modified games. In this way, students are provided with some opportunities to acquire and develop skill-based competencies. Best practice was found when plans had been developed to provide a range of activities with breadth, depth and relevance to the needs of the students, that have been structured logically and progressively to ensure that learning occurs in a coherent manner. This practice is highly commendable as it ensures that students have opportunities to learn the principles underpinning human movement and performance as well as factors that influence participation in physical activity, exercise and sport.
It is commendable that all students are included in Physical Education lessons regardless of their physical abilities. In some cases, planned activities are modified to accommodate the differentiation in ability levels within the class group and the expansion of this practice is encouraged. The planned introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus is welcomed and it is commendable that the planning framework and modes of assessment promoted by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) have been given detailed consideration. It is planned that the revised syllabus will be introduced for the incoming 2007/2008 first-year students and will be rolled out over the following three years.
The Physical Education department has developed a comprehensive plan for Transition Year Physical Education. This plan involves a balance between in-school and off-site activity modules, including visiting a local driving range, fitness studio, bowling centre, artificial skiing slopes and orienteering in a large local wooded park. The introduction of students to the range of facilities that cater for the diversity of physical activity interests in their local community is excellent practice. The in-school activity modules include a focus on health promotion, dance, self-defence, team challenges as well as games. TY students also visit an outdoor education centre at the beginning of the school year and participate in many challenging adventure activities. It is commendable that the TY plan includes this diverse range of activities in keeping with the ethos of the programme and that these activities are challenging and relevant to the interests of the students. The Physical Education department also plans and hosts an annual fun sports day for students, which is highly commendable. In addition, annual fundraising activities take place that include physical activities such as a sponsored walk along the Dodder River. The positive link between physical activity and supporting community projects is to be commended.
In some cases, planning for the acquisition of resources to support the teaching and learning of the subject is commendable and a considerable number of books, videos and DVDs have been compiled. However, the compilation of resources is at the discretion of each teacher and there is an absence of a common set of resources that may be shared by the department. It is recommended that the department compile a series of common resources, such as topic specific worksheets, criterion referenced performance video clips, task cards and self and peer-evaluation profiling worksheets.
Planning for the purchase of additional gymnastics equipment has been given consideration but is postponed until clarification regarding the new sports hall has been received. Access to the computer room is available on booking but this is rarely used as part of Physical Education lessons. However, it is commendable that a number of relevant websites have been identified in some planning documents as reference and resource guides for both the teacher and students. It is commendable that video has been used previously with a class group as a teaching and learning tool, and it is recommended that the Physical Education department plan to expand the use of this tool and other modes of ICT to support students to become self-analytical learners. Health and safety issues have been identified in some planning documents and there are set procedures in place to ensure the safe participation of students in all physical activities.
Good prior preparation and organisation was noted for all lessons visited, with the necessary equipment and supporting resources efficiently set up prior to commencement. Teachers have developed a system of recording attendance and participation whilst students are changing, which helps to optimise time for learning. A clear system of assembly is in place and this good practice ensured the efficient commencement of all lessons observed.
In the classes visited, the topics taught were tag rugby, soccer, athletics and health-related fitness. All lessons commenced with a warm-up and these activities were related to the topic of study. In some cases opportunities were availed of to pose challenging questions to students about the nature and purpose of the activities being undertaken and this practice should be extended where possible. Opportunities were also used during the warm-up phase in some lessons to identify good movement technique, to identify active muscle groups and to recap on previous learning. This good practice ensures that students acquire relevant information regarding their anatomy and physical functionality and to “scaffold” learning in a progressively systematic manner.
Lessons observed were well structured and paced to suit the ability levels of the students. Teachers’ enthusiasm for the set tasks helped to motivate students and create a positive learning environment. There was some good use of demonstration and this provided students with exemplars of the required techniques. Best practice was observed when relevant teaching points were given along with good demonstrations to aid students’ understanding to execute each task proficiently. This included the mechanics, positioning and “feel for the movement” as feedback cues to master the required techniques. In one case, students were excellently engaged in the learning process where the teacher skilfully guided them using probing questions to analyse their physical activity levels and to design an activity programme to improve their physical fitness. The integration of map reading, route planning based on students’ local knowledge and engaging in the planned health related physical activity was exemplary practice. In addition, the use of objective measures of the volume and intensity of students’ activity during the lesson helped to establish the cause and physiological effect of the physical activity, which proved a valuable learning aid to enhance students’ understanding.
In most lessons observed physical activity levels were good. However, in some cases skill-based practices were organised where students were divided into large groups, which resulted in long waiting times to practice the execution of the targeted skill. It is recommended that teachers consider optimising the work to rest ratio when organising skill-based practices. This will ensure that students have sufficient opportunities to practice and learn the desired skills as well as having regular rest periods to avoid the influence of fatigue on skill acquisition. Additionally this approach will help avoid students queueing and ensure greater application and engagement in each task.
All activities were well organised and students were enthusiastic in their participation and fully enjoyed their lessons. Classes were firmly managed and students were regularly affirmed for their efforts. In all cases there was evidence of very good student-teacher rapport. Teachers gave individual attention and encouragement when required and this proved effective to ensure that students understood each task and remained focused throughout the lesson. Students demonstrated a high level of maturity and were very respectful towards each other and their teachers.
In most cases, lessons finished with a recap on the class activities and informed students of the content of the next lesson. This good practice helps students to view their learning as part of a cumulative process rather than as a series of isolated experiences. Single period lessons were well managed and physical activity was optimised but the short duration proved restrictive to the level of engagement with the physical activities. In such cases, students could have benefited from more time to develop their competencies in the various activities as they were just grasping the concepts of phases of play when their classes ended.
Participation levels in lessons observed were high although there is some scope for improvement in the inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the physical activities of the lesson. It is recommended that strategies be developed to ensure that all students remain engaged in the Physical Education process. Such strategies may include umpiring, peer assessment of key performance indicators, student as teaching assistant and activities organiser. The development of additional support resources will also help the full inclusion of these students in their Physical Education lessons and ensure that they avoid becoming passive in the learning process.
Records of student attendance and participation in Physical Education are well maintained and the notes system appears to work well. Observation of students’ participation, application and progress in class activities is used as one mode of assessment in Physical Education. In some cases, questioning is used to determine students’ level of knowledge and understanding of specific topics of study and the use of this method is encouraged in all lessons.
It is commendable that the Physical Education department plans to use self and peer-assessment as well as the completion of rich tasks as part of the formative assessment process with the introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. Other instruments of assessment have also been identified such as practical demonstration, written examination or project, video presentation or photographic records of learning. The development and deployment of these assessment methods is encouraged and it is recommended that student folders be maintained to compile a portfolio of student achievement during each block of learning.
Formal reporting to parents takes place twice per year, at Christmas and summer and contains a comment on each student’s participation and progress in Physical Education. Teachers are also available at all parent-teacher meetings.
Students observed during the inspection demonstrated good active and enjoyable engagement in their Physical Education lessons and responded well to questions at the end of lessons.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Physical Education is a core subject at junior cycle, TY and LCA. Students in the LCA programme study the Leisure and Recreation Syllabus.
· The school has recently increased the time allocation for Physical Education at junior cycle, with all classes now receiving two periods per week.
· The timetable allocation for TY Physical Education follows best practice.
· The school supports the continued professional development of its teachers and has participated at recent inservice for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, which it plans to introduce in the forthcoming year.
· The planning framework promoted by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) has been given detailed consideration.
· The school is advanced in its planning for a new sports hall and changing rooms and has established an exemplary working relationship with a local GAA club to provide access to first class facilities for Physical Education and school sport.
· The Physical Education department has developed a comprehensive plan for Transition Year Physical Education.
· Health and safety issues have been identified and procedures are in place to ensure the safe participation of students in all physical activities.
· Lessons observed were well structured and paced to suit the ability levels of students.
· Class activities were well organised and students were enthusiastic and motivated in their participation.
· Students were educated in a positive and respectful learning environment, where good student-teacher rapport exists.
· Records of student attendance and participation in Physical Education were well maintained.
· Instruments of assessment have been identified by the Physical Education department for use with the introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· It is recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications to teach Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject.
· Management is encouraged to work towards providing all students with access to quality Physical Education, in line with the recommendations in the Department of Education and Science, Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.
· It is recommended that subject planning be organised to ensure that a common programme of activities is in place to provide a comprehensive and progressive Physical Education programme for all students.
· Teachers are encouraged to expand the range of teaching and learning strategies that promote the application of knowledge in analysis and evaluation of human movement and performance.
· It is recommended that the organisation of skill-based and game related practices give consideration to optimising the number of opportunities for students to learn and apply their knowledge and skills.
· It is recommended that the Physical Education department plan to include some modes of ICT to support students to become self-analytical learners.
· Common strategies and resources should be developed to ensure that all students remain engaged in the Physical Education process.
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.