An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Carlow Vocational School

Kilkenny Road, Carlow

Roll number: 70420R


Date of inspection: 27 March 2009




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 Carlow Vocational School. 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 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Carlow Vocational School is a co-educational secondary school, which is run under the auspices of Co. Carlow Vocational Educational Committee (VEC). It has a current enrolment of 182 second-level students. The school also runs a large post-leaving certificate (PLC) programme and its campus is located adjacent to the Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow). The school provides a range of programmes to meet the educational needs of its students, including the Junior Certificate, Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), an optional Transition Year (TY) programme, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).


Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum for all students. All junior cycle students receive one double period of Physical Education per week. This time allocation and timetable arrangement is adequate to implement the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus and meets the minimum time requirement specified in circular letter M15/05. The timetable allocation for TY students is exemplary, with a treble period timetabled for Physical Education studies and a further double period per week timetabled for health-related fitness studies in the school gym. Fifth-year students following the established Leaving Certificate programme and the LCVP are timetabled for one double period per week, while sixth-year students receive a single period of Physical Education per week. Management has increased the time provision for senior students recently and is working towards providing a minimum of one double period for all fifth and sixth-year students. The achievement of this goal will ensure that all senior students will have an appropriate structure to support their learning in Physical Education.† The timetable allocation of a treble period per week for LCA students ensures that there is sufficient time for in-depth engagement in the Leisure and Recreation course. It is recommended that management continue to work towards addressing any timetable shortfalls to provide the subject for all students in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science (DES) Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.


Carlow Vocational School does not have an indoor hall and this adversely impacts on the range of activities that can be provided. However, the considerable efforts made by the school to provide access to suitable indoor facilities that support the physical education programme are highly commended. The school has a playing pitch and a hard court area, both of which have been recently renovated. A small exercise gym has also been developed to support the physical education and PLC programmes. This functional space contains a number of cardio-vascular and resistance training machines and a small number of free weights. An agreement is in place with a local community centre to use its sports hall for classes during the week. In addition, the school accesses a local swimming pool on a regular basis and often hires playing facilities from IT Carlow. Significant organisational and financial commitments are required to continue this level of support for the various physical education and PLC programmes. Management and the physical education department are applauded for their collaborative efforts to provide for this aspect of studentsí education.


The physical education department consists of four teachers, one of whom is qualified to teach the subject, with all other teachers possessing qualifications in either sports science or leisure and recreation related areas. These teachers are mostly deployed to deliver the Sport and Recreation or the Physiology and Sports Management courses to PLC students. Whilst the deployment of these teachers to the second-level physical education programme ensures that studentsí physical activity needs are provided for, the range of learning experiences possible in Physical Education is limited. It is recommended that the school work towards a situation where all lessons in Physical Education are delivered by a teacher who is appropriately qualified in the subject area as recognised by the DES.


Support for continuing professional development (CPD) is reported to be good. Management encourages attendance at relevant in-service. It is commendable that a member of the physical education department has participated in some of the DES in-service programmes, including in-service for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus. All members of the subject department should familiarise themselves with this syllabus, the teachersí guidelines and the various resources that are available through the website of the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS; This will provide teachers with the rationale, content, planning and appropriate teaching, learning and assessment strategies best suited to delivering the syllabus.


Storeroom space for equipment is quite limited and consists mainly of a small cupboard adjacent to the exercise room. A number of resources to support teaching and learning, including DVDs, texts and workbooks may be accessed by all members of the physical education department, as these are neatly stored in a dedicated press in the staff room. Additional or replacement items of equipment or resources are purchased on a needs basis through a requisition system, which works well. There is good access to a range of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment such as digital video cameras, data projectors and DVD players, if required. The physical education department has a good awareness of health and safety issues. Appropriate precautions are taken to ensure the safe movement of students to and from the various external venues.


Good efforts are made to support studentsí involvement in sport and physical activity through the extra-curricular programme. However, the size of the school population and the interest of students from year to year impacts on its ability to enter teams into various schoolsí competitions. A number of sports are offered to students including camůgie, Gaelic football and track and field athletics. Lunchtime leagues are often organised in other sports such as soccer. In addition, a number of zones have been developed where students can play handball at break times or after school. Some worthwhile initiatives have been undertaken to encourage girls to be more active, and include dance classes and aerobics. Students who play badminton are also facilitated to represent the school in competitions. Of particular note is the involvement of students in volunteering to assist with the coaching of athletes with physical disabilities through the schoolís support of the Irish Wheelchair Association. TY students also assist with coaching athletes with an intellectual disability through the schoolís involvement with the Special Olympics programme. This involvement is highly educational for students who learn the value of sport as a means of social integration, in addition to the development of physical and psychological wellbeing. The efforts of staff to promote the greater involvement of students in sport, exercise and physical activity is highly commended.


Planning and preparation


Appropriate structures are provided by management to support the planning process and these include time for formal meetings, the promotion of standardised subject department planning templates and the appointment of a subject convenor. The role of subject convenor is clearly defined and is well executed. Minutes of formal meetings are recorded and these indicate that a number of relevant issues are discussed. The assignment of Physical Education related tasks to members of the department and the recording of actions taken is good practice. The engagement by the physical education department in the subject planning process to date is commended.


A subject department plan for Physical Education is in place, which outlines the relevant elements involved in the organisation and delivery of the various programmes of work. The use of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) planning framework and some of the planning documents provided by the JCPESS provide a useful structure to inform the planning process. In addition to the aims of the programme, the subject plan includes useful references to the inclusion of students with special educational needs, health and safety guidelines and the identification of some areas for cross-curricular links. Of note are the planned activities to promote the mathematical ability of students following the JCSP. The further identification of opportunities and the development and implementation of activities that promote learning across the curriculum are recommended.


Students in the LCA programme follow the Leisure and Recreation course and the planned programme of work is in line with the course requirements. The planned physical education programme for junior and senior cycle has a strong emphasis on games, with some athletics and health-related activity also provided. It is recommended that the number and the frequency of repetition of the planned activities across the various programmes of work be reviewed. Most year groups repeat the same activity blocks each year. Whilst this can improve competency and understanding, it is limited both by the competitive nature of these activities and the lack of identified progression on an incremental basis. The learning intentions for each planned activity block should ensure that students have a clear focus on how they improve their own physical competency, body management, knowledge and understanding of the principles of human movement. A greater number of diverse activities, both competitive and co-operative, that involve individual as well as team-based activities, should be included in the programmes of work. For example, an adventure activities module that uses the schoolís outdoor facilities could be planned to introduce orienteering and team challenges to students. A focus on games for understanding and fundamental skills in first year would help students to concentrate on their own personal development. These students will then be in a better position to engage in more challenging and complex activities, with a greater understanding of the underlying principles of play.


Some schemes of work have been developed to support the delivery of the various planned activities. It is commendable that some of these schemes identify the key learning outcomes, which students are expected to learn over the course of their studies. This planning practice is most effective when the learning outcomes are expressed in terms of the knowledge and skills that students will acquire and are aligned to the specific learning experiences, appropriate teaching and learning strategies and resources that support studentsí learning. There is a need to build on the planning progress to date to ensure that all schemes of work are developed using a common agreed format. This will help to develop consistency in providing for all aspects of teaching and learning for the specific activity blocks. Furthermore, schemes of work for similar activities should identify how students will develop their understanding of key concepts incrementally as a result of their participation. This work should take place over an agreed period of time and be evenly distributed amongst all members of the department. It is also suggested that the plans be developed electronically to allow for easy storage, access and ongoing review and updating.


Long term strategic planning should identify the issues facing the delivery of the physical education programme and the strategies to address any challenges. Participation rates, particularly at senior cycle, were identified as a challenge by the physical education department. It is recommended that the physical education department undertake a review of the programme in consultation with their students. This should aim to identify factors that impact on studentsí participation, their perceptions of the current programme and their suggestions on how to improve the programme to meet the needs and interests of all students. This process will serve to promote ownership and increase studentsí commitment to the programme.


Teaching and learning


Good procedures are in place for student assembly prior to leaving the school building for the various off-site activity venues. This assembly time is used effectively to record attendance and participation and to assign organisational duties to students. In one instance, a number of students, who opted not to participate in the lesson, were assigned work and supervised in the school social area. It is recommended that a number of key strategies be developed to ensure that these students are included in some way in the lessons and are not detached from the physical education setting. Such strategies should aim to promote studentsí cognitive and social involvement in the lesson, if they are unable or unwilling to engage in the physical activities. Through tasks such as peer review of performance, video recording, umpiring or organisational duties, these students will feel they have made a meaningful contribution to the lesson, which may in time, lead to their greater participation in the practical activities.


Most physical education lessons take place in off-site venues. Students walked mannerly and expediently to these venues and demonstrated good adherence to the established safety procedures. The focused activity in the lessons observed was soccer. Good practice was observed in most lessons where teachers introduced the content of the lesson and outlined the learning expectations for the students. 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. The establishment of criteria for success, such as the specific knowledge, skills and understanding that students should learn as a result of their participation in the lesson, would further enhance this approach.


The practical phases of the lessons commenced with appropriate warm-up activities, most of which were skill-related drills that focused on students rehearsing the key skills of soccer, such as controlling, passing and dribbling with the ball. In all cases, these activities were well controlled and progressed in intensity and complexity at appropriate intervals. Relevant health-related fitness concepts were integrated throughout the warm-up activities to reinforce studentsí learning of basic anatomical and physiological concepts. In some instances, students were afforded the responsibility to lead their peers through selecting and demonstrating a number of stretching exercises, which is good practice.


Lessons were developed through a series of skill-related drills and conditioned games. In all lessons, students were actively engaged and there was a good commitment to ensuring high levels of physical activity. Good practice was observed when students worked through a series of developmental tasks that increased in complexity and that simulated game-related activity, in both unopposed and opposed situations. As a result, students developed their decision-making skills together with their physical skills. In some instances, a restructuring of the working groups and the use of differentiated tasks would have been more beneficial to both the lower and higher- ability students. Lower-ability students found it difficult to execute one-touch passing or to engage in four-versus-one defensive roles, which demanded high personal skill and physical fitness levels. As a result, the flow of activity was often interrupted, which was frustrating for the higher-ability students and stressful for the lower-ability students. Using two or three touch control and pass activities and three-versus-two defensive plays in groups of similar abilities would have reduced the stress on the lower-ability performers and afforded them more time to develop their skills. One touch and four-versus-one defensive play is appropriately challenging for the higher-ability students, who would benefit from a more homogeneous group for skill and situational-based practices. It is recommended that differentiation for ability levels be considered at the planning stage of lessons, to ensure that all students are challenged to make progress at a level commensurate with their ability.


Several effective strategies were appropriately used to promote studentsí learning. Questioning was used effectively to engage students and to promote their understanding of the technical and tactical aspects related to the skills of the game. Continued use of higher-order questions is recommended. Appropriate subject-specific terminology was used at times, which is commendable as it helps to extend studentsí vocabulary of human movement. Demonstration, together with clear instructions, provided students with good criterion references for the successful execution of the focused skills and tasks. In one instance, worksheets were used to help students reflect on their learning experiences and to plan and implement a soccer training session for their peers.


All interactions between teachers and students were respectful and cordial. Teachers actively supported students throughout the lessons by providing formative feedback to individuals and small groups to improve their performance.† Students were also affirmed regularly for their efforts.† 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.




Assessment in Physical Education takes place mostly through observation of studentsí engagement and progress in class activities and through oral questioning to determine their understanding of the focused topics. In addition, a number of formal assessments strategies are used by some teachers and include the completion of key assignments and a general task in LCA and a written assessment at the end of the health-related fitness module in TY.


The significant progress made to date by the school in providing the subject and in the planning and delivery of the physical education programme is acknowledged. However, there is a need to develop a systematic approach to assessment in Physical Education. Assessment should occur both as part of the ongoing teaching and learning process and also at key stages throughout the studentsí programme of work. The work conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on assessment for learning should be reviewed to identify how formative assessment can contribute to the learning process. The use of self and peer-assessment tools, which are available in the physical education departmentís planning folder, would help to begin a process of reflection with students. The development of critical analytical skills is a key aim of this system. In addition, 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 would further enhance the assessment process. 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 use of the relevant JCSP statements for Physical Education should also be considered to support studentsí learning through the various modules at junior cycle. 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


Records of attendance and participation are maintained for all physical education classes in keeping with good practice. Communication with parents occurs through the school report system, the student journal and parent-teacher meetings. Comments on studentsí engagement and progress in Physical Education are included in reports to parents for all junior cycle and TY students twice per year. It is recommended that comments on studentsí engagement, progress and attainment be also included on reports for all fifth and sixth-year students. The physical education teachers are available to meet with parents at annual parent-teacher meetings, in addition to being available by appointment.


Students demonstrated an ability to answer questions related to their class activities and had a relatively good understanding of the fundamental principles being taught in their lessons.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


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 the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





Published March 2010