An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
St. Louis High School
Charleville Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6
Roll number: 60890C
Date of inspection: 9 March 2009
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Louis High School, Rathmines. 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 classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí 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 of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
St Louis High School is a voluntary secondary school for girls, with a current enrolment of 562 students. The school provides a range of educational programmes to cater for the needs of its students, including the Junior Certificate, an optional Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).
It is commendable that the timetable provision for Physical Education is currently under review. The school is aware that the overall time allocation for the subject at junior cycle falls significantly short of the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science (DES) Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, and management is proactive in addressing the current shortfall. At present, first-year students receive one double period per week, while second and third-year students receive one single period of Physical Education per week. The provision of single period lessons should be reviewed as these impose significant restrictions on the level of in-depth engagement possible with the subject matter. Students have to change before and after lessons, which significantly reduces the time remaining for any meaningful tuition and physical activity. Schools involved in the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus are expected to provide a minimum of one double period per week (circular M15/05) for all junior cycle classes.
Students who opt to follow the TY programme are provided with one double period of Physical Education per week. An additional double period per week is provided for performing arts, where TY students can avail of the opportunity to participate in a dance module. Physical Education is an optional subject for Leaving Certificate and LCVP students. Those that opt to study the subject receive one double and one single period per week in fifth year and one double period per week in sixth year. The time allocation for senior cycle students is adequate to implement a comprehensive physical education programme. However, the optional nature of the subject should be reviewed. It is of concern that the majority of Leaving Certificate students do not participate in the schoolís physical education programme. Teenage girls have been identified as a group most susceptible to early dropout and disengagement from physical activity. It is important that schools endeavour to provide appropriate levels of Physical Education for all students. Adequate provision will serve to reinforce the significance of regular physical activity and encourage students to lead active, healthy lifestyles. It is therefore recommended that the school work towards providing Physical Education for all students in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science.
The physical education department consists of three teachers who are qualified to teach the subject. In addition, a member of staff, who is fully qualified to teach swimming and lifesaving, is deployed to support the delivery of the aquatics modules along with the timetabled physical education teacher. This exemplary additional support ensures that the girls have opportunities to achieve external certification for their swimming and lifesaving skills, in addition to achieving the learning outcomes for the planned aquatics module.
There is good commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) within the physical education department. Management actively encourages attendance at in-service and other relevant courses and the board of management often contributes towards the costs of attending such courses. The board also contributes towards the cost of membership to the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI; www.peai.ie). All teachers have attended the in-service programme for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus. The school is now actively implementing the syllabus, insofar as possible given the time restrictions. Additional courses relevant to the work of the physical education department such as defibrillation and first-aid training, have also been undertaken. The support and commitment to professional learning is commended.
There are adequate facilities available to support the delivery of the schoolís physical education and sports programmes and include a small hall, a large hard court and a small grass surface. A small auditorium is also available, which may be used to teach dance or similar activities. School management has recognised that the current facilities are quite restrictive and are currently in the process of submitting plans to build a large sports hall. The trustees and school management are highly commended for their foresight and commitment to this aspect of educational provision.
Extensive arrangements are made to supplement the existing facilities and the school accesses a number of community sports clubs. These include a swimming pool, sports halls, pitches and a local fitness centre, driving range and pitch and putt course, which are used to support the delivery of the schoolís physical education and extra-curricular sports programmes. The exposure of students to the sporting, leisure and recreational facilities and physical activity opportunities in their local community is very good practice as it can promote and develop positive lifestyle behaviours. The efforts involved in the organisation of these additional facilities and the financial commitment by the school to support the various programmes is highly commended.
The small storeroom adjacent to the hall is neatly organised and contains sufficient equipment to support the planned physical activity modules. A number of resources to support teaching and learning, including DVDs, texts and workbooks are easily accessed by all members of the physical education department. Additional or replacement items of equipment or resources are purchased on a needs basis through a requisition system. There is good access to a range of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment such as digital video cameras, data-projector, DVD and video players, if required. The Physical Education department has a good awareness of health and safety issues. Appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure that the facilities are maintained to provide a safe working environment. In addition, the development of guidelines to ensure studentsí safe participation in the physical education programme is good practice.
There is a post of responsibility for the organisation and co-ordination of the extra-curricular activities and these duties are effectively executed. The programme aims to encourage personal and physical development, a healthy lifestyle and positive social attitudes through participation. A number of clubs have been established and students are encouraged to affiliate with one or more activities. An affiliation fee is requested from students for membership to each club, which contributes towards the costs of hiring external facilities. Each club is organised by a teacher who acts as team manager for the various teams, whilst some external coaches are also used to support the training of the various squads. The main sports provided are athletics, badminton, basketball, Gaelic football, hockey, swimming and lifesaving. In addition, the school promotes and supports students to pursue the presidentís Gaisce awards. Teams and individuals have had significant successes at provincial, national and international level in some of these sports. Activities, such as aerobics and dance, are also organised to provide students with an opportunity to engage in physical activities at a recreational rather than competitive basis. This good practice ensures that students, who may not wish to be involved in competitions, have the opportunity to participate in physical activities for their intrinsic value. The significant educational benefits of the extra-curricular programme and the work, commitment and dedication of coaches and managers are clearly articulated in the schoolís annual publication. Students contribute articles synopsising their many memorable and highly valuable experiences, whilst also expressing their gratitude to team mates, teachers and coaches.†
The quality of planning and preparation in Physical Education was found to be very good in this school. Appropriate structures are provided by management to facilitate subject department planning through regular opportunities for formal meetings. Teachers also share resources and collaborate on a daily basis regarding the organisation and delivery of the planned programmes of work. A member of the department acts as the subject co-ordinator to chair meetings, maintain records and to co-ordinate the activities of the department. This role is regularly rotated at agreed intervals in keeping with good practice.
The planning framework promoted by the school development planning initiative (SDPI) is used to facilitate subject department planning. The subject plan for Physical Education is a thorough and purposeful document and reflects the collaborative efforts of the teachers. The subject plan includes all necessary information regarding the organisation and delivery of the subject and identifies how the physical education department hopes to contribute to the physical, personal and social growth and development of each student. The aims and objectives of the subject are clearly outlined along with the provision for students with special educational needs, health and safety procedures and assessment. Good references are also made for cross-curricular planning with other subject areas such as ICT, Home Economics and Science. The further development of these links should be considered to include other subjects with common areas of study, such as the physical health module in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) or map reading in Geography.†
The planned programme of work is mostly in keeping with the guidelines and is linked to the learning outcomes specified in the syllabus. The planned programme provides good breath and balance in terms of knowledge and skills that students will acquire to inform their understanding of human movement. A number of common schemes of work have been developed to support the delivery of the activity blocks. To ensure that all the activity strands of the syllabus are provided, it is recommended that consideration be given to the inclusion of a module of adventure activities and team challenges in the junior cycle programme. The extensive school grounds would provide a suitable location to introduce orienteering to students, whilst camp craft and team challenges could be provided on the small grass area and the hard courts. †
There is a good range of interesting activities planned for TY in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the programme. Opportunities are provided for students to take part in a number of modules including an accredited coaching programme, pitch and putt, a residential outdoor education trip and a variety of team challenges. TY students also undertake a project, such as organising and running a tournament or assisting in coaching. In addition, TY students may opt to take a number of modules such as dance, self-defence, first-aid and sailing. The provision of this range of activities is highly commended as it adds great variety to studentsí learning experiences in Physical Education. The senior cycle programme is underpinned by a view that students should possess a range of skills and informed attitudes to enable them to lead physically active lifestyles. A number of modules are based on the development of skills in activities that can be sustained regardless of age and that have long term health and social benefits, such as golf, dance and health-related fitness training. The aims of the senior cycle programme of activities are highly commended.
The physical education teachers presented as reflective practitioners who displayed a willingness to review and adapt their practice to meet the changing needs of their students. Consideration should be given to the inclusion of a student review of the physical education programme, particularly at senior cycle. This will further inform the content and delivery of the planned physical education programme.
There was evidence that the Physical Education teachers engage in effective individual planning and preparation for their lessons. Plans presented were based on the common programme of work and were in line with the syllabus guidelines. Teachers also maintain a record of work completed, which is good practice.
There was a good quality of teaching and learning in the Physical Education lessons observed during this inspection, with students actively involved in well-planned lessons. In the lessons visited, the topics taught were health-related fitness, concepts of physical fitness and dance. Good procedures have been established to ensure that students change quickly and present for class in an orderly manner. Lessons began promptly with the teacher recording attendance and participation and introducing the topic of the lesson. Some excellent practice was noted when teachers outlined the lesson content, linked the content to previous learning and specified the intended learning outcomes for students. In some cases, the whiteboard was effectively used to illustrate the main concepts of the lesson and these were referred to frequently during the lesson. The learning outcomes were expressed in terms of the knowledge and competencies that students should acquire as a result of their active participation in the lesson. This approach is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning and is particularly valuable in providing students with a focus and direction for their learning.
Whilst the introductory phase of lessons was comprehensive and relevant, it is important to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between time spent on instruction and demonstration and student engagement in the practical activities. Some consideration should be given to restructuring how circuit type activities or tasks that involve multiple stations are introduced to students. To this end, it is recommended that students are physically active sooner and less time is spent on explanation and demonstration at the start of lessons, where students may become passive observers. Where there is a need to demonstrate a number of exercises, or task stations, it may be more beneficial to have students work in pairs and to perform each exercise in sequence under the direction of the teacher. Such tasks could be organised so that, following an initial demonstration and explanation, one group of students performs the exercise while their partners provide feedback. In this way, students are quickly engaged through physical activity and are afforded the opportunities to learn the focused skill. In addition, students also develop their ability to critically analyse movement through the application of the relevant key performance indicators in the peer-review setting. Once students are familiar with all the exercises, or task stations, they could then apply the concepts relevant to circuit training or assessing their competency in each task.
The practical phases of the lessons commenced with warm-up activities, which were appropriately linked to the topic of the lessons and often involved students rehearsing previously learned skills. In all cases, relevant health-related fitness concepts were integrated throughout the warm-up activities to reinforce studentsí learning. Good practice was observed in many instances where students took responsibility for some components of the warm-up activities, such as selecting, demonstrating and leading their peers in a number of stretching exercises. A strong commitment to ensuring technical competence was a common feature of all lessons. The setting of appropriately high standards for students, commensurate with their ability, is highly commended. As a result, many students demonstrated good levels of body management and confidence in their participation and execution of the required tasks.
In all cases, instructions and explanations were clear and precise and demonstrations were skilfully executed by teachers. Where appropriate, opportunities were provided for students to work independently, which resulted in active and enthusiastic engagement. Tasks set were challenging of students of all abilities. There were some good examples where tasks were differentiated to accommodate students of various fitness levels by giving them autonomy over their selection of the degree of difficulty, number of repetitions, or intensity at which they could perform each task. Effective questioning was used to determine studentsí knowledge, deepen understanding and to seek clarity on the technical aspects of performing a task, skill or sequence of movement. This good practice ensured that students were able to establish links between the activities they were participating in and the benefits to sports performance, social inclusion or general health and wellbeing. The use of appropriate subject-specific terminology is commended as it helps to extend studentsí vocabulary in all aspects of human movement. Engaging students physically and in higher-cognitive thinking such as analysis of performance and application of knowledge is exemplary practice in Physical Education.
Resources and equipment were used effectively to enhance learning. The selection and use of music in some lessons was appropriate for the activities and helped to create a positive, enthusiastic and energetic atmosphere. In one lesson, the use of worksheets ensured that students maintained a record of their responses to the set tasks.
Participation levels in the lessons observed was good. Efforts were made to include students who were unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons, which is good practice. It is recommended that the range of inclusion strategies be further developed and documented in the subject plan and that a bank of resources to supports studentsí learning in each activity block be prepared. Such strategies may include videoing, assisting in group work and peer-teaching and also the use of resources such as worksheets, task cards and peer-review record sheets.
Teachers have established a friendly and respectful rapport with their students and, in all cases, classroom management was highly effective. Teachers were actively involved with their students throughout the lessons providing feedback to individuals and small groups and offering technical advice and assistance when necessary. This attention was given in a caring and sensitive manner and, in many instances, students produced a noticeable improvement in their performances as a result of their teacherís intervention. Students were also affirmed regularly for their efforts, engagement and standard of performances. The level of physical activity and the progress made during the single period lesson were highly impressive given the short amount of time available. However, these students would have benefited from more time to develop their competencies. There were audible sighs of disappointment at the end of the lesson as students were thoroughly enjoying the group activity and were fully immersed in their learning.
Questioning was used at the end of most lessons to recap on the material covered and to discuss studentsí learning experiences. This is good practice as it helps to consolidate and reinforce learning. Students responded confidently to questioning during the inspection and demonstrated a good understanding of the concepts covered.†
Assessment of studentsí learning in Physical Education takes place through observation of their engagement and progress in class activities and through oral questioning to determine their understanding of the focused topics. In addition, the physical education department has begun to use self and peer-assessment as a means of engaging students through assessment for learning strategies. A number of additional and appropriate strategies are also used to assess studentsí learning and include the completion of swimming and lifesaving competency awards in the first-year aquatics module, the completion of a video analysis project in TY and the successful completion of umpiring or coaching awards at senior cycle. All of these approaches are beneficial in motivating students and in affirming their learning.
To build on the good work achieved to date, it is recommended that the physical education department expand their current practice to include a systematic assessment of studentsí learning in Physical Education at key stages throughout their programme of work. This can be achieved through expanding the use of self and peer-assessment strategies, the completion of rich tasks at the end of each module of learning and the inclusion of a practical performance component at least once a year. In this way studentsí practical performance, movement analysis ability and knowledge and understanding of the material covered can be assessed in an incremental and informative manner. The development of an efficient system of retaining relevant records of studentsí work is also important to ensure that the assessment process is effective. Information regarding the development of portfolios of learning can be obtained from www.jcpe.ie.
Detailed records of attendance and participation are maintained for all physical education classes in keeping with good practice. The frequency of reporting to parents is very good. Regular attainment reports, which are issued on approximately four occasions throughout the year, ensure that parents are fully informed of their daughterís engagement and progress in Physical Education. In addition, the use of the student journal and parent-teacher meetings for each year group provides a useful forum to engage with parents.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
∑ The school is proactive in accessing a range of external facilities to support the delivery of the physical education and extra-curricular sports programmes. It is also actively
pursuing the development of its own high quality indoor sports hall.
∑ Management is supportive of teachersí continuing professional development and the Physical Education teachers have been proactive in their own professional learning.
∑ Appropriate structures are in place to facilitate subject department planning and the quality of planning and preparation in Physical Education was found to be very good.
∑ The subject plan for Physical Education is a thorough and purposeful document that addresses all aspects related to the organisation and delivery of the physical education programme.
∑ The planned programmes of work provide good breath and balance to ensure that studentsí learning experiences contribute to their physical, personal and social growth and development.
∑ There was a good quality of teaching and learning in the Physical Education lessons observed, with a strong commitment to promoting technical competence through participation
in well planned and progressive tasks.†
∑ Classroom management was highly effective and studentsí learning was developed in a positive, affirming and respectful environment.
∑ Regular reports are sent home to parents and include formative comments regarding studentsí engagement and progress in Physical Education.
∑ Extra-curricular sports is organised and delivered through a well organised club structure in the school. †
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
∑ It is recommended that the school works towards providing Physical Education for all students in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science. †
∑ Consideration should be given to the inclusion of a module of adventure activities and team challenges in the junior cycle programme.
∑ Some student input, especially at senior cycle, should be included as part of the physical education departmentís ongoing planning and review process.†
∑ When planning lessons that involve multi-tasks, the lesson structure should ensure that there is an appropriate balance between time spent on instruction and demonstration and
student engagement in the practical activities, especially at the commencement of lessons.
∑ Additional strategies and resources should be developed to include students who may be unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons.
∑ The further development of a systematic approach to assessment in Physical Education is recommended.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education, the principal and the deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published November 2009