An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Wesley College

Ballinteer, Dublin 16

Roll number: 61010U


Date of inspection: 27 November 2008





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations







Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Wesley 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.  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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Physical Education enjoys a valued status in Wesley College and is a core subject for all students. With the exception of third-year students, the time provision for the subject is in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science (DES) as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. The timetable provision of two double periods per week for first-year students and for students following the compulsory Transition Year (TY) programme is exemplary. In the majority of cases, the timetable arrangements are suitable for the delivery of the comprehensive physical education programme. In a limited number of instances, some third-year classes receive two single periods and consideration should be given to providing this time as a double period to facilitate more in-depth engagement with the subject matter. The time provision is listed as both Physical Education and Games on the timetable and it is recommended that the title “Physical Education” be used on the timetable returns to the DES to reflect the curricular subject.  


The Physical Education department consists of five teachers, four of whom hold recognised qualifications to teach the subject. In some cases, additional coaches or teachers are deployed to support the delivery of some aspects of the programme. In all cases, these coaches or teachers are timetabled concurrently with a qualified physical education teacher, which may help to offset any potential health and safety risk. However, it is best practice that only teachers who hold appropriate qualifications, as recognised by the DES, be deployed to teach Physical Education. There is a strong commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) and management has structures in place to support teachers in this regard. These include releasing teachers to attend DES in-service, providing financial assistance towards the cost of subject association membership and attending courses relevant to the needs of the subject department. In addition, the school hosts undergraduate students to undertake their physical education teaching practice, which is commended. As a result of these supports for professional development, the physical education department is well informed of current issues and practices in the provision of the subject. It also highly commendable that some members of the subject department have pursued post-graduate and sports-specific qualifications.  


The physical education department operates a system whereby students are organised into class groups by gender. Whilst this system was stated to work well in this school, it is important that it is grounded in a clear rationale. Such a rationale should be included in the subject planning documentation, and should specify the benefits of this practice to students’ learning and attainment in Physical Education. Opportunities should also be availed of to promote gender integration during relevant modules across the strands of the syllabus, whenever possible.


Excellent facilities are available to support the delivery of the physical education and extra-curricular physical activity programmes in the school. The external facilities, which have recently been upgraded, include two regulation size Astro-turf pitches, an all-weather hockey pitch, a hard court basketball area, one football and four rugby pitches. In addition, there are two shorter multi-purpose Astro-turf training pitches which are mostly used for tennis and soccer. Flood-lighting ensures that the school can optimise the use of their Astro-turf and all-weather pitches for training in the evenings. These external facilities provide the highest quality playing surfaces for their respective sports and school management is highly commended for the provision and maintenance of these facilities. The school also has one large and one small sports hall, along with a suite of changing rooms. The smaller hall is also used as a gym and has a range of free-weight resistance equipment along one side. Unfortunately there is a lack of dedicated storage facilities in which to place large items of equipment in both sports halls. This has resulted in large items of equipment, such as the free weights and portable badminton and volleyball posts and nets, being stored along the perimeter walls of both halls. Teachers provide clear instructions to students about the health and safety risks associated with the current storage arrangements. However, these arrangements should be reviewed and consideration should be given to providing a central storage facility for movable posts and equipment. This will ensure that the playing surfaces are free from any protruding objects and that there is easy access to the range of equipment.


Physical Education is very well resourced in the school and an effective requisition system is in place to support the purchase of additional and replacement items of equipment. In addition to the range of equipment, there are excellent information and communication technology (ICT) resources available to support teaching and learning. The physical education office and sports halls are broadband enabled and a mobile laptop and data-projector are available. The school has purchased a license to provide motion and notational analysis software to enhance students’ learning in Physical Education, which is exemplary. In addition to a large number of dedicated sports notice boards documenting training times, panels and forthcoming events, there are notice boards to provide information regarding the physical education programmes and motivational articles on sport, exercise and health for students.


Sport is central to the life of the school. Many students identify with the school through the sports programme and a positive culture of participation and support has been developed in the school. The school is justifiably proud of its sporting traditions and deserves high accolades for the substantial investments it has made to provide top-class playing facilities. An exemplary Statement of Good Practice for Sport has been developed that emphasises the many educational, social, and personal benefits to be gained from participation in the extra-curricular physical activities programme. It is highly commendable that this statement emphasises enjoyment, fair-play, equality and personal responsibility in promoting a sense of pride in representing the school. Such an approach has been shown to produce far more success than that which focuses solely on winning. A clear code of behaviour for students, teachers and coaches is also included, which is in keeping with the guidelines of the Irish Sport’s Council, Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Children's Sport.


The extra-curricular activities programme is highly organised, with dedicated training times, coaches and venues clearly documented. A broad range of competitive and recreation-based activities are offered to students. The school has a long and proud tradition in rugby, hockey, athletics and cricket. In addition, badminton, basketball, netball, soccer and tennis are also provided. Participation in sports such as golf, sailing and equestrian activities is facilitated and students are supported to represent the school in their preferred sport. The achievement of the school in some of the competitive activities is to the highest standard. A significant number of past students of the school have the distinction of representing Ireland at the highest international level, including the Olympic Games. Great credit is due to the school for its role in providing the structures to identify, nurture and support the development of talented young athletes and games players. The role of all staff in the organisation and coaching of these activities is to be acknowledged and highly commended. The employment of additional qualified coaches to support students’ development through the extra-curricular sports programme exemplifies the commitment of the school to its sporting traditions.


It is particularly noteworthy that Wesley College organises specific focus weeks and events that contribute to students’ understanding of their general wellbeing such as a Health Week and health education programme. The involvement of members of staff from relevant subject departments, including Physical Education, is highly commended.


Planning and preparation


Regular formal subject planning meetings are facilitated by management as part of the school development planning programme. A dedicated office for the physical education department provides opportunities for planning and discussion to take place on a daily basis amongst team members. Physical Education is divided into two separate programmes, one for boys and one for girls, which are co-ordinated separately. While both programmes are very well developed and are ably co-ordinated, there is a need for a more collaborative and integrated approach to planning for the overall provision and delivery of the subject in the school. A common subject plan should be developed by collating the very good work already completed separately. The core section of this plan should document a clear rationale for the subject and the overall aims of the programme, its provision and delivery in the school. The content of the activity strands may differ according to student needs or preferences. However, the underlying principles informing students learning in each of these strands should be documented. In this way, all students are working towards the achievement of a common set of learning outcomes. All members of the physical education team should contribute to the development of this document, and consideration should also be given to alternating the overall responsibility for this work between the relevant teachers.


There was evidence that the members of the physical education department are reflective practitioners. This was seen in the quality of the documentation presented and the strategies in place to review the various programmes of work.


The programmes of work for junior cycle are informed by the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus. The activity blocks offered at junior cycle are in line with the syllabus guidelines and provide students with a broad, balanced and relevant programme of work. The TY programme provides students with many opportunities to engage in a diversity of physical activities that promote lifelong participation. Specific attention is given to promoting an understanding and development of the components of physical fitness. An innovative sports science module also provides TY students with the option of learning to apply scientific principles to develop an understanding of their physical functionality and human performance. In addition, a residential trip to an outdoor education centre provides students with opportunities to experience a range of adventure activities in a structured and challenging environment. TY students receive certificates for many of the activities they study and this external validation and certification of learning provides students with tangible outcomes arising from their physical education programme. It is commendable that senior cycle students are given choices regarding their activity preferences. This is good practice as it allows students to assume some ownership of their physical education programme and improves their level of engagement. The inclusion of some student evaluation of their modules is also highly commendable, as this further informs and enhances the content and quality of delivery of the physical education programme.


Detailed schemes of work are planned to support the effective delivery of each block of learning. However, each of these schemes is presented in varying formats. It is suggested that these schemes be assimilated into a common agreed format, as this will help to develop consistency in providing for all aspects involved in teaching and learning for the specific blocks. This work should take place over an agreed period of time and be evenly distributed amongst all members of the department.


Effective planning for the acquisition of additional or replacement items of equipment and resources ensures that the physical education department has access to all necessary aids to support teaching and learning of the subject. A wide range of resources such as texts, DVDs, worksheets, resource cards and educational packs, in addition to professional journals have been acquired and developed by the physical education department. ICT is effectively integrated into the teaching and learning process. Planning includes identifying specific activities where the use of motion analysis software or digital video recordings may enhance students’ learning. Some good examples were outlined such as the recording and analysis of the golf swing where students’ learn how to produce a more biomechanically efficient movement using feedback from the motion analysis software. Evaluation from students indicated that this method greatly enhanced their learning. This is exemplary practice.


Teaching and learning


There was a high standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education observed in Wesley College. The topics covered in the lessons were badminton, decision-making in games, defensive strategies in games, flexibility, gymnastics and hockey. A good level of prior planning and preparation in all lessons ensured that students were actively engaged from the outset. Good practice was observed in most lessons when teachers outlined the content and direction of the lesson and shared the intended learning outcomes with their students. The whiteboard was also used effectively to highlight the important points of the lesson and this ensured that students had a clear focus for their learning.


Lessons were well structured, which included the preparation of the learning environment, the recording of attendance and the organisation and implementation of class tasks, all of which were executed very efficiently. Warm-up activities were related to the focused topics and this helped to optimise the introduction/familiarisation phase of the lessons. Best practice was observed when students engaged in warm-up activities that were progressive in intensity and complexity. However, in some cases, the initial physical activities were of a high intensity. It is important that warm-up practices include an element of transition from rest to high intensity to allow sufficient time for physiological adaptation to occur. This will help to delay the onset of fatigue and reduce the level of physical stress experienced by less conditioned students, especially during the early phases of the lesson. Some warm-up activities introduced the concept of dynamic range of motion exercises and these were correctly demonstrated and effectively executed by students. Anatomical references and the action of joints were referenced in many cases. This good practice ensures that students are familiar with the terminology to accurately describe human movement.


There was an effective range of teaching methods in the lessons observed including teacher and student-led demonstrations, pair and small group work, completion of worksheets, peer-review and questioning. There was also good use of the whiteboard to explain tactical positioning or to identify the technical components in the execution of a focused skill. Team teaching was observed in one case and this worked very well to provide a co-ordinated approach to support students’ engagement in the class activities.


There was good sequencing of learning in all lessons to ensure the acquisition and development of skill and understanding. Teachers were consistent in focusing students on adherence to correct biomechanics to produce efficient movement, whenever appropriate. There was a strong commitment by teachers to ensuring high levels of physical activity and learning, and students were fully engaged in all tasks observed in each lesson. Students were challenged both physically and cognitively to engage with the key concepts of the lessons and this good practice served to promote more in-depth learning. In games lessons, tactical scenarios were presented by the teachers that required students to develop a response to counteract their opponents. This was most effective in developing students’ understanding of the concepts of positioning, space and timing and also to develop a sense of teamwork. Clear instructions and explanations were given to support the correct execution of tasks or exercises. There was good use of questioning in all lessons and this strategy was effective in determining students’ understanding and also in engaging them in movement performance analysis. The promotion of higher-order thinking through discussion, analysis and application in all of the lessons observed is highly commendable.


In all cases there was very good classroom management. Students of all abilities were fully included in the various class activities. It is particularly commendable that students who were unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons were appropriately engaged in their lessons. The variety of strategies available and the resources developed to engage these students should also be documented in the subject plan. Teachers have established a good rapport with their students and lessons were characterised by adherence to a high standard of behaviour. Teachers were actively engaged with their students and offered assistance and affirmation to individuals and small groups. When affirmation was given to students, it was noticeably appreciated.


Students demonstrated a good work ethic and were diligent in their application to the set tasks. Students also had a good knowledge of the focused topics and displayed a good level of physical competence. Time was effectively used at the end of the lessons to consolidate the key learning points and to indicate the content of the next lesson, which is good practice.




Assessment practices are well developed in the school. The physical education department has engaged in considerable reflection regarding the role of assessment to promote learning. It is commendable that many of the assessment for learning strategies promoted by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS), including self and peer-assessment, have been adopted by teachers. It is also commendable that some of the schemes of work plan for the completion of rich tasks at the end of the block of learning. The use of a skills assessment sheet for each activity is a valuable mechanism from which students can identify their learning targets. Furthermore, the use of the progress ladder supports students to focus on their specific learning needs commensurate with their ability. While all teachers fully engage in meaningful assessment strategies, the physical education department would benefit from a common approach to assessment for both boys and girls.


It is commendable that the physical education department has developed a system to retain a record of students’ work. Extensive class records of individual student attainment were provided for inspection, which are maintained in the teachers’ daily journals. Records are maintained of student attendance and participation in addition to topics covered in each physical education lesson. Records are also maintained of students’ performances on a series of physical fitness tests. The results of these tests are used by each student to identify areas of development for their own physical well-being. The judicious use of these tests, founded on clear educational principles and differentiated for the wide variation in physical fitness levels is commendable. The physical education department should also consider the use of sub-maximal tests such as step-tests or walk/jog runs with intensity measured using heart-rate monitors, which will help students to learn the concepts of intensity, adaptation and progression. When selecting physical fitness tests, the validity and reliability of these tests should also be accounted for. This practice, when used appropriately, may help to motivate students and address many of the issues related to the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. Improved physical fitness is a consequence of a physically active lifestyle and therefore the focus of learning should be on developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes that support students in adopting appropriate health-related behaviours.


Student folders are maintained that include worksheets, skill profiles and self assessment sheets. It is recommended that the physical education department expand this system to facilitate the production of student portfolios of learning. In addition to the material already being compiled by students, a portfolio may contain a number of additional samples of students’ work. Students may select these samples from the range of work that they have undertaken over the duration of their course. This may include projects completed, video clips, motion analysis profiles or photographs to demonstrate technical competence in an activity, physical activity diaries or reflection journals, training programmes designed and implemented by students or other relevant material related to students’ learning experiences. This process will help provide further evidence of students’ engagement and learning in the subject.


Physical Education is included in written reports to parents. These reports contain a comment based on the students’ level of participation, engagement and achievement in the subject, which is appropriate. Physical Education teachers also attend parent-teacher meetings, which are held annually for each year group.


Students were enthusiastic, well behaved and respectful and are engaging and learning to a high standard in their physical education lessons.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Physical Education is provided as a core subject for all students in line with the guidelines of the DES.

·         There are excellent facilities and resources available for Physical Education, school sport and physical activity.

·         Extensive planning documents have been developed to support the organisation and delivery of the subject. 

·         The college is implementing the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus.

·         Management is fully supportive of continuing professional development and the Physical Education teachers have been proactive in their own professional learning.

·         ICT is effectively integrated to support teaching and learning in Physical Education. The use of motion analysis software provides students with highly

      advanced technology to develop their knowledge and understanding of skill acquisition and improvement.

·         There was a high standard of teaching and learning observed in the physical education lessons.

·         Lessons were well structured, purposeful and challenging and promoted students’ physical and cognitive development.

·         Students observed were knowledgeable and enthusiastic and were engaging and learning to a high standard in their physical education lessons.

·         A comprehensive range of assessment strategies has been developed and implemented and good records are maintained of students’ engagement and

      progress in Physical Education.

·         There is exemplary provision, promotion, involvement and achievement in extra-curricular sport and physical activities. 


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 title “Games” be changed to Physical Education on the school’s timetable returns to the DES to reflect the curricular subject.

·         It is recommended that only teachers, who hold appropriate qualifications, as recognised by the DES be deployed to teach Physical Education.

·         The current arrangements for the storage of moveable posts and equipment should be reviewed and consideration should be given to providing a central storage facility.

·         An overall subject plan should be developed that combines the work already completed for both the boys’ and girls’ physical education programmes. A common

      approach to the development of schemes of work and assessment for each module should also be considered.

·         The physical education department should plan to include opportunities to promote gender integration during relevant modules and activity strands in the physical

      education programme.



Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.




Published May 2009