An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
De La Salle College
Roll number: 64950O
Date of inspection: 28 and 29 March 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in De La Salle College, Waterford. 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 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, deputy 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; the board chose to accept the report without response.
De La Salle College is a predominantly boys’ secondary school with a total student enrolment of 987 students including 37 girls who are repeat Leaving Certificate students. The school has a teaching staff of seventy teachers. Physical Education is well supported and resourced in the school and the subject has a high standing among both teachers and students, being a compulsory subject for all year groups. The time allocated to the subject is a double period for all year groups with a small amount of time, usually about six weeks, being lost in sixth year due to the fact that Career Guidance is timetabled concurrently with Physical Education. While the overall time allocation is similar to what is on offer in many post-primary schools, it falls short of the two hours per student per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005. It is therefore recommended that the school work towards providing a minimum of two hours per week for Physical Education for all year groups as part of the long-term developmental plan for the subject.
There are three fully qualified teachers of Physical Education employed by the school and an additional six teachers involved in the teaching of the subject at senior cycle who do not hold physical education teaching qualifications. The school has found it necessary to deploy these teachers in senior cycle Physical Education as the large number of students in the school means that it is not possible for all physical education lessons to be taken solely by the three qualified physical education teachers. Despite the fact that the deployment of teachers without physical education teaching qualifications enables all students to have timetabled physical education lessons, issues regarding the teaching skills of these teachers and the health and safety implications of their deployment cannot be ignored, as these teachers cannot be expected to have the same depth of knowledge and understanding of Physical Education as fully qualified teachers of the subject would be expected to have. It is recommended, therefore, that until such time as the school is in a position to have all physical education lessons taken solely by qualified physical education teachers, the structures currently in place regarding the precise role of the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications should be formalised. Thus, it should be made clear that, in the case of a lesson being taken concurrently by teachers with and without physical education teaching qualifications, the qualified physical education teachers are the people in overall charge of the lesson. The role of the other teachers, consequently, should be to provide instruction in line with clear guidelines which have been established and agreed and have the approval of school management. These should include details of the areas which the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications are to cover and pedagogical guidance as to how lessons should be organised and structured. In addition, the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications should only teach or supervise activities with which they are familiar and in which they have some background or expertise, so as to minimise any potential health and safety risk. They should only be timetabled to teach Physical Education at a time when the school’s qualified physical education teachers are timetabled concurrently, as obtains at present.
It must be pointed out however, that no incorrect or inappropriate instruction was given during the inspection by teachers without physical education teaching qualifications and the limits in their skill sets did not detract from a very vigorous, enjoyable learning experience for all students. Similarly, the highest health and safety standards were followed in all lessons observed as part of the inspection. In this regard it is also highly commendable that a significant number of staff have been facilitated to undergo First Aid training, as such training can be invaluable in the event of a serious accident taking place in any area of school life.
The facilities available to the school are very good and are used to optimum effect by the physical education department. These consist of a good-sized indoor hall, a well-equipped fitness suite, two squash courts, two tennis courts and three grass pitches. The school also uses the nearby Peoples Park for some activities and the Regional Sports Centre is used for pitch & putt and athletics. The willingness to use outside facilities in this manner is commended as it allows the school to offer a greater variety of activities to students. The range of equipment available to the physical education department is more than adequate for the delivery of a high-quality physical education programme and the provision of these resources is viewed as a reflection of the commitment of school management to the subject.
The school has been involved in school development planning for a number of years and has produced policies on admissions, anti-bullying, homework and substance use as part of this involvement. There is a very good subject plan in place for Physical Education, reflecting a commendable amount of thought and effort on the part of the physical education department. This document outlines, among other things, the aims and objectives of the subject in the school, timetabling arrangements, class organisation, planning for students with special educational needs, cross-curricular planning, planning for a culturally diverse society, health and safety requirements, assessment, record keeping and teaching methodologies appropriate to the subject. It is suggested that future planning activities might focus on the long-term development of the subject in the school. Provision in the area of extracurricular activity, and the way in which learning in Physical Education and extracurricular activity have the capacity to complement each other, could also be documented as part of the plan.
The physical education subject plan also details the range of activities which is provided to students in all years. Although there are quite a number of activities planned for students over their six years in the school, the physical education programme in junior cycle is dominated by games, with a consequent under-provision in other areas, notably gymnastics, dance, adventure activities, athletics and aquatics. Some running is provided at senior cycle but other areas central to athletics, such as field activities, are not being provided. In addition to this, it has been the practice that students study each area of activity for four-week blocks at junior cycle. This time allocation is considered insufficient for students to acquire any substantial depth of knowledge and understanding of a particular activity. While a certain amount of variety of activity is essential in order to maintain high levels of student motivation and interest, it is essential that curricula in Physical Education are not implemented as “exposure” type curricula, where students experience a great variety of activities but are not given the chance for in-depth learning in any area. It is therefore recommended that blocks of learning be extended to between six and eight weeks in each activity. Although this will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of activities which students experience, it must be borne in mind that a range of inter-disciplinary learning takes place in many activities in Physical Education. 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.
It is recommended, therefore, that the programme of activities offered be reviewed so as to provide greater breadth and opportunities for more in-depth learning to take place. With this in mind, it is recommended that the school implements the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus as soon as is practicable, as both the available facilities and qualified personnel are in place to facilitate its implementation. This syllabus is being presented to schools as an enabling structure, allowing each school to plan the range of activities it offers according to its individual circumstances, while still having regard to the overall aims of junior cycle Physical Education. Implementing the syllabus has the capacity to impact positively on the physical education experience of all students by introducing more breadth and balance to learning at junior cycle. Such provision should make the choices that students make at senior cycle, and the choices they make with regard to their physical activity involvements in later life, more informed and consequently more valid. It must be acknowledged, however, that in planning for the subject in the school, the physical education department is already using some of the planning documents and materials available on the Junior Cycle Physical Education website (www.jcpe.ie). This is commendable. It is also to be commended that subject-department documentation includes records of subject department meetings
Blocks of activity in Transition Year (TY) are longer than in all other years, as these typically extend from six to eight weeks. In keeping with the spirit of the TY programme, opportunities are provided for learning in areas not normally covered in other years. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are the GAA coaching module and First Aid module, both of which are externally certified by the GAA and the Order of Malta respectively. Providing opportunities for external accreditation of learning in this manner is highly commended as it can be highly motivational and rewarding for students. TY students also have an opportunity to take part in a day-long outdoor education course at a local outdoor education centre.
An extensive range of extracurricular activity is provided in the school. The school’s recent success in the senior colleges’ hurling competition is an achievement of which all in the school are justly proud. This success, the first in the school’s history, reflects a huge commitment from staff and students alike to the promotion of hurling in the school and can be expected to impact positively on the attitude of many students towards participation in extracurricular sporting activity for many years. The school is equally proud of successes in other sporting arenas, and such successes in soccer, basketball, athletics, Gaelic football, tennis and golf are also highlighted within the school through the prominent display of trophies, medals and photographs. Such commitment to the provision of extracurricular sporting activities is highly commended and is a reflection of a genuine interest on the part of staff and management in the school in providing activities to cater for a broad range of students’ talents.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in De La Salle College was good and individual lessons benefited from thorough planning. Class materials had been prepared where appropriate, and students helped to organise the setting up and storing of equipment in an orderly manner. Students warmed up thoroughly in advance of participation in more vigorous activity and teachers took students through a range of mobility and stretching drills designed to increase the heart rate and gently stretch the major muscle groups. Where practice was optimum, teachers also availed of opportunities to provide students with health-related information during the warm-up and name the various muscle groups that were being stretched. The thoroughness with which students in all lessons performed these warm-up activities was noticeable and indicated a familiarity with the practice of performing a warm-up at the start of all physical education lessons. This is commendable.
Exercises that were performed by students as part of a lesson in circuit training were explained thoroughly to students beforehand and the quality of students’ performances of these exercises reflected the high quality of teacher demonstration. Some suggestions were made as to the sequencing of activities performed as part of the circuit, as it is considered good practice that different muscle groups are exercised at each stage of the circuit and that, unless there is a specific intention to overload particular muscle groups, the same muscle group should not be exercised in consecutive stages. In lessons concentrating on fitness work it is also considered essential that students gain an understanding of the principles of training and fitness, so that the objectives of the lesson involve more than effecting improvements in students’ fitness levels and teaching them how to perform fitness exercises correctly, important as these objectives may be. The quality of instruction and demonstration which students received was very good in all lessons and an excellent relationship between students and teachers was in evidence. Senior cycle students participating in a badminton lesson had an enjoyable, positive experience of the game and showed some development in their skill levels. Some further instruction and explanation of the key points of the skills being taught would have benefited students who experienced difficulty, however. It is also suggested that conditioned games could be used to reinforce learning and that the teacher should stop these games from time to time to question students regarding tactics or strategies of play. It is recommended that, rather than presenting students with information or solutions to problems, individual and group questioning be used from time to time in all lessons to elicit information and to test students’ understanding. Where such questioning took place, such as in a tennis lesson for example, this was a clear aid to students’ understanding and the answers provided by students served as a stimulus for further questions by other students. Focussed questioning should also help to promote a culture of reflection on performance among students and to promote higher-order learning objectives such as evaluation of learning. Opportunities which were provided in one lesson for students to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each others’ performances highlighted how effective this practice can be in helping students to become critical, reflective performers.
Drills and practices set up as part of lessons in team games were very well organised and showed a clear progression in both the physical and mental demands placed on the learner. These practices had sufficient variety to maintain students’ interest and, in many cases, challenged students to apply learning from previous lessons. This is considered very good practice as it helps students to link learning in one lesson with the current lesson and to see the learning of discrete skills as part of overall skill development in a game. Affirmation and encouragement was provided to all students for their efforts and teachers were quick to offer additional advice and support to students who experienced difficulty. Such support was offered in a sensitive manner so that students were never made to feel inadequate or inferior as a result of failure to perform a skill or practice successfully. High quality in the performance of skills was stressed at all times and teachers emphasised this by focussing on key points of skills and by giving detailed explanations of how skills should be performed. These explanations frequently involved breaking a skill, such as the service in tennis, into its key component parts in order to facilitate learning. This practice was very successful and resulted in a very good quality of student performances. Recapping on learning often took place at the end of lessons and it is recommended that the learning goals of each lesson also be shared with students at the start of each lesson as a counterpoint to this good practice. This practice is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, can help to increase students’ motivation and sense of ownership of the learning process and can help students become more autonomous learners.
There are good structures in place in the school for the recording of students’ performances in physical education lessons and reporting to parents. Records of students’ participation and involvement in each physical education lesson, as well as a record of activities covered, are maintained and students who are not participating in physical education lessons are expected to have a parental note or a medical certificate excusing them from participation. A system of student demerits has been designed as part of the subject plan for Physical Education to address the small minority of students who do not participate in physical education lessons on a regular basis. This system has proved successful in maintaining high participation rates in physical education lessons. Reports on Physical Education are sent to all parents twice per year and these reports contain a comment from the physical education teacher on the overall performance of each student. It is considered good practice that the physical education teachers have the facility to either choose from a selection of pre-defined comments or write an individual comment of their own for each student. Such a facility allows the teacher to provide detailed feedback on students’ performances and enhances the formative nature of each report.
It is the policy of the physical education department that assessment of students is not based on ability alone but includes an overall informal judgement on the part of the teacher as to the amount of improvement which the student has demonstrated over a block of learning. This is commendable as such a policy seeks to reward students’ efforts and attitude to learning in Physical Education. It is recommended that, as part of the assessment process, the physical education department seek to also develop strategies to objectively evaluate students’ learning, as this should provide very useful information to students and their parents regarding the substantial learning that is taking place in Physical Education in the school. The scores of students in some tests of physical fitness, such as the bleep test, are currently recorded as an objective measure of cardio-vascular fitness levels. The communication of information to individuals regarding developmental and maturational changes in this specific aspect of physical fitness is considered useful and appropriate, and the physical education department is aware of the need to make sure that scores on such a test are never presented as competitive results in which students are compared with each other. In addition to formal written reporting, the physical education teachers also attend school open nights and all parent-teacher meetings which are held once per year for each year group.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· Physical Education is well supported and the subject has a high standing among both teachers and students in the school.
· All physical education lessons seen provided a vigorous, enjoyable experience of physical activity for all students.
· Excellent health and safety standards are being followed in all physical education lessons.
· The school has very good physical education facilities and these are used to optimum effect by the physical education department.
· A comprehensive subject plan is in place for Physical Education.
· A variety of novel and interesting physical activities, in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the programme, are provided in Transition Year.
· An extensive range of extracurricular activity is provided by the school and the recent success in the senior colleges’ hurling competition is an achievement of which all in the school are justly proud.
· The quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education is good.
· A cordial, businesslike relationship exists between students and teachers and all lessons take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
· The structures in place for record-keeping and reporting in Physical Education are good.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The school should work towards providing a minimum of two hours per week for Physical Education for all year groups.
· The structures in place regarding the role of the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications involved in the delivery of the subject should be clarified and formalised.
· The school should formally implement the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus in order to increase the breadth of activity being offered to students.
· Learning goals should be communicated to students at the start of lessons.
· Where practicable, information should be elicited from students through focussed individual and group questioning in order to enhance learning.
· As a complement to the existing system of assessment and reporting in Physical Education the subject department should seek to develop strategies to objectively evaluate students’ learning.
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.