An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Saint Angela’s School
Ursuline Convent, Waterford
Roll number: 64990D
Date of inspection: 1 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Angela’s, 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 one day during which the inspector visited lessons and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Subject provision for Physical Education is generally very good and the subject has an excellent status within the school. There are four qualified teachers of Physical Education on the staff and this has led to the creation of a vibrant subject department, dedicated to providing a high-quality experience in Physical Education for all students in the school. Management is commended for its willingness to recruit this number of qualified physical education staff, and this is taken as a clear indication of the value ascribed to Physical Education in the school. All necessary resources are made available for the provision of a thorough, balanced curriculum in Physical Education. The physical education department is well funded with a significant budget being made available annually for the purchase of equipment and materials and supplementary funding being made available as the need arises. The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are excellent and include two all-weather pitches, a full-sized physical education hall with a fitness suite on the balcony, a smaller general-purpose hall, four tennis courts and a grassed area. The perimeter path, covering a distance of approximately 1.5km around the spacious, well maintained grounds of the school, is also used as a running/walking track as part of the school’s Slí na Sláinte activities.
First-year, second-year, Transition Year (TY) and Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) classes have two periods of Physical Education per week, slightly below Department of Education and Science (DES) recommendations. There are, however, greater shortcomings in the timetabled allocation to other years. Third-year and fifth-year classes have only one period of Physical Education and sixth-year Physical Education is optional as it is timetabled opposite higher level Mathematics and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) link modules. The school is urged to review these timetabling arrangements with a view to working towards the provision of two hours of Physical Education per week to all students as recommended in the DES Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005. The fact that management expects to be able to guarantee a single period of Physical Education next year for LCVP students is applauded as a step in this direction. It must be pointed out, however, that students who opt to study higher level Mathematics should not have to forego participation in Physical Education as a result as it is regarded as essential that all students are guaranteed minimum amounts of timetabled Physical Education each week regardless of choice of options or levels.
The provision of an extensive range of extracurricular activities, many of which take place at lunchtime, goes a significant way towards making up shortfalls in timetabled allocation in Physical Education at senior cycle. The high levels of participation in a wide range of activities, many of which are organised and monitored by students in co-operation with their teachers, is clear evidence of a school that values participation in physical activity and has managed to inculcate a sense of pride and enjoyment in participating in these activities among the student cohort. Systems in place such as the senior sports captains committee, who are elected by their peers in the fifth year cohort, and the election of a sports captain for each class group are particularly commendable as a means of empowering senior students to make decisions concerning their own physical activity involvement. Senior sports captains interviewed as part of the inspection were a very impressive group, displaying a keen awareness and enthusiasm for their role. It is also noted, and highly commended, that some senior students take extracurricular activities, under the supervision of their teachers, in areas in which they have particular experience, such as dance, for example. The provision of these opportunities to students can be very powerful in motivating students and enabling them to become self-directed, independent learners.
The quality of planning and preparation observed in St. Angela’s was excellent. Very thorough plans have been compiled, both by individual teachers and at whole school level and these are impacting positively on the delivery of the subject at all levels. A subject co-ordinator has been appointed, undertaking this role as part of the functions of a special duties post of responsibility. Some of the co-ordination duties are, however, undertaken by other physical education teachers and it is noted that these duties are rotated periodically. This is considered good practice as it helps to share the work load attached to the efficient running of the physical education department. The excellent practice of documenting key decisions taken at subject department meetings is commended.
The physical education subject plan is a comprehensive, thorough document reflecting the considerable collaborative efforts of the physical education teachers. Planning has taken place for students with special educational needs with modifications to the physical education programme being made to suit the needs of each student as necessary.
The use of the senior class sports captains to co-ordinate and promote sporting involvements among students is a very worthwhile idea and the students who are fulfilling this role are to be highly commended for their efforts. The weekly meetings between the physical education department and the senior sports captains are used to plan and co-ordinate the many activities that are taking place. Teachers and students deserve the highest praise for these efforts.
High-quality planning in the physical education department is facilitated through the provision of time for meetings at the start of the school year and periodically throughout the year. It is noted that, due to a fortunate coincidence in the physical education teachers’ timetables this year, the teachers have had the opportunity to meet on a weekly basis in addition to the many informal meetings that take place. This has been very useful in planning the many physical activities that take place in the school and in the dissemination of information to and from the physical education department. This has also facilitated ongoing review and minor adjustment of the physical education programme, and it is considered good practice that the programme is formally reviewed each year to make sure it continues to meet the needs of students. The use of student self-assessment sheets is noted as an effective means of gauging students’ reaction to particular activities. The high levels of participation among students in the lessons observed as part of the inspection, and the vibrant levels of activity noted during the lunchtime extracurricular activities programme, indicate that the school’s physical education programme is very successful in meeting students’ needs. Such commitment to planning is highly commended.
Management is commended for facilitating the attendance of physical education teachers at a range of continuing professional development courses that have been provided by the Department of Education and Science and external agencies. The school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus and planning that has taken place in connection with this syllabus is in line with DES guidelines. It is suggested that some consideration be given to extending the amount of time dedicated to learning in each activity to between six and eight weeks and that at least one activity take place over a minimum of eight weeks. While accepting that this will mean that a lesser number of activities will be covered each year, it should allow for more in-depth engagement with the subject matter in each activity and will facilitate the use of rich task methodologies which is recommended as part of the implementation of the syllabus. The use of a rich task approach is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning and can be expected to impact positively on students. It can also provide the foundation for some of the excellent, self-directed work being undertaken by sports captains in senior cycle. The fact that a lesser number of activities will be covered each year should not be a cause of concern as a significant amount of transferable learning takes place in many activities, particularly games, which are covered as part of the normal physical education programme.
A good range of activities is provided in Transition Year (TY), many of which are not available in the normal physical education programme, in keeping with the spirit and ethos of TY. The use of external experts to provide instruction in activities such as Complementary Therapy, Dance Choreography and Street Awareness is commended as this facilitates the provision of activities which may be outside the range of expertise of the school’s teachers.
As already mentioned, the school’s programme of extracurricular activity is particularly impressive. There is an extensive range of activities provided with significant numbers of teachers and students involved. The school newsletter, which is sent to parents, is used very effectively to promote involvement in physical activity and to affirm the involvements and successes of students representing the school in a range of endeavours. Among the main areas of activity are basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, athletics, cross-country, orienteering, step aerobics, dance, volleyball, rounders, equestrian and gym and fitness work. While the school’s list of competitive successes in these activities is hugely impressive, the aims of providing the activities, stated as the involvement of as many students as possible and the provision of opportunities for students’ personal development through participation in enjoyable activities, is highly commended. It is evident that these aims are being realised to a very large extent and all concerned in providing extracurricular activities in the school deserve the highest praise.
The quality of teaching observed during the inspection was excellent. Students were well engaged in all lessons and thoroughly enjoyed participating in the well-structured range of activities observed. Lessons began promptly with students assisting in the setting up of class materials and equipment, frequently without requiring any prompting from their teacher. This was good to see and is indicative of the sense of shared purpose and spirit of co-operation that was so evident in all lessons. Teachers routinely took a roll call before beginning the activity phase of the lessons with some gentle stretching and mobility exercises. While students were performing these exercises, the excellent practices of questioning students as to the various muscle groups being stretched, recapping on learning that had taken place in previous lessons and introducing the learning objectives of the current lesson were noted as a feature of almost all lessons. Quite apart from the accepted educational benefits of sharing learning outcomes with students, in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, the use of the warm-up time to engage in these activities helped to save valuable lesson time, particularly in lessons which were of single-period duration. All warm-up activities were performed thoroughly and conscientiously by students, indicative of a clear familiarity with the practice of performing a thorough warm-up prior to participation in more vigorous physical activity.
There was a clearly evident focus on learning in all lessons and the excellent use of questioning was particularly effective in achieving lesson aims. Thus, students were regularly challenged, for instance, to identify the most appropriate occasions to use the overhead clear or drop shot in badminton, to assess whether specific groups had answered the set task in dance and to reflect on learning that had taken place during ‘team challenge’ activities. The physical education department has begun to introduce assessment for learning in lessons and this is beginning to have an obvious impact, with students engaging in some excellent reflective activities. The practice of encouraging students, both individually and collectively, to reflect on learning that had taken place during the lesson and to reflect on their own performance during the lesson was a notable feature of all lessons and is to be highly commended. It can be very motivational for students and can go a long way towards helping them to become more independent learners.
The quality of technical instruction delivered to students was excellent in all lessons. Teachers demonstrated a clear ability to enable students to focus on the key aspects of any skill or activity that was being covered and to separate the skill into component parts for students who were experiencing difficulty. Indeed, the quality of individual attention given to such students was exemplary and any correction which was offered was accepted in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. Explanations were clear and concise and, in many instances, included reference to learning in other lessons and in other activities. This focus on transferable learning from other activities is particularly commendable as it helps students to see learning in each individual activity and each lesson in Physical Education as part of an integrated body of knowledge, skills and attitudes, all of which help them to become educated individuals in the broadest sense.
Good records are maintained of students’ attendance and participation in all physical education lessons and these are used to inform reporting in Physical Education. Excellent use is being made of a range of assessment strategies to evaluate students’ learning and this includes the use of both theoretical tests, which are administered in TY, and practical assessments such as the gymnastics assessment which takes place in first year and second year. Regular informal assessment of students’ progress also takes place via observation in all physical education lessons.
It is recommended that the school consider the video recording of gymnastics displays as an aid to formative assessment in Physical Education. The use of such technologies is recommended as it can provide useful information to students whose learning style is more suited to visual rather than verbal feedback. In this regard, the facility to provide a specific, focused comment on the progress of each student in Physical Education in reports that are sent home is noted and commended as a formative aid to learning.
A range of fitness tests is administered twice per year in TY. The philosophy underpinning the use of these tests in the school is very sound, in that they are used to provide focused information to individual students as to their evolving physical capabilities as they mature. Although the tests are, quite correctly, not being used as a competitive measure of fitness in any way, the use of maximal tests such as the bleep test should be reconsidered. While acknowledging that this test provides useful information to students concerning their general level of cardiovascular fitness, and the school lacks the facilities or the capacity to provide more comprehensive tests such as a test of VO2 maximum, the use of any tests that require students to work to their physiological limits as part of a routine physical education lesson is regarded as inappropriate. As an alternative, the use of sub-maximal tests, such as the Harvard Step Test or other sub-maximal tests that provide basic information regarding heart rate and recovery from exercise, is recommended.
It is considered good practice that the physical education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings and that the teachers are available on request to meet with parents outside of these formal meetings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, October 2008