An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Coachford, County Cork
Roll number: 70960D
Date of inspection: 11 and 12 October 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coachford 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 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 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.
Physical Education is generally well provided for in the school. There are three, fully qualified physical education teachers on staff who operate very effectively as a subject department and bring a range of expertise to the planning and organisation of the subject in the school. Another teacher, who does not hold physical education teaching qualifications but who possesses a wealth of teaching and coaching experience, is also timetabled to teach a small amount of Physical Education. In keeping with best practice and Department of Education and Science regulations (Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005, page 5(3) and page 142), students should always be in the care of a suitably qualified professional and it is therefore recommended that all physical education lessons be taken only by teachers with the appropriate qualifications. It must be acknowledged, however, that the contribution that teachers who do not hold physical education teaching qualifications are making to the overall culture of health and physical activity in this school and many other schools throughout the country is significant, a fact recognised by the ESRI report School Children and Sport in Ireland (2005). It is suggested that the appropriate avenue for this contribution is through extracurricular and co-curricular activity, however, and that, as the school has adequate numbers of qualified physical education teachers on staff, timetabled lessons in Physical Education should only be taken by these teachers.
The facilities available for the teaching of the subject are very good. The school has a full-sized physical education hall, two hardcourt areas and a grass pitch which is part of the 10-acre site on which the school is situated. All of these facilities are very well maintained. Storage issues, however, particularly in relation to some of the larger apparatus and equipment, are causing some difficulties for the physical education department. There are two main storage facilities integral to the physical education hall, one of which has a small double-door for access and the second of which has a large double-door. This latter facility is currently being used for the storage of ancillary caretaking equipment and materials and is not, therefore, being used for the storage of physical education equipment for which it was designed. This situation is unsatisfactory and has created a difficulty whereby some large crash mats are stored in the main body of the hall, several gymnastics benches have to be moved from the corridor in order to provide access to the hall for students with disabilities, and it takes an unnecessarily long time to access some items of equipment due to overcrowding in the other storage area. While it is accepted that providing access to the larger of the two storage areas in the physical education hall will require some attention to health and safety matters relating to the school boiler and electronic control panel, it is suggested that these matters should be attended to so that this storage area can be used, in particular, for the storage of the larger items of physical education equipment. The routine use of this facility for the storage of maintenance and cleaning equipment should be discontinued.
The timetabled allocation to Physical Education is a standard double period of approximately eighty minutes for most classes. Although this allocation is the norm in many post-primary schools, the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 are that all students should have two hours per week of Physical Education. It is recommended that the school work towards providing this amount of Physical Education for all its students. In particular the situation whereby senior cycle students following the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) have only a single period of Physical Education per week needs to be addressed. While it is accepted that this situation has arisen due to timetabling difficulties with regard to the LCVP link modules, the short amount of actual activity time available to students in single period physical education lessons makes meaningful involvement very difficult for students and makes it equally difficult for teachers to cover topics in any substantial depth. For these reasons it is recommended that classes should not have single periods of Physical Education.
Management has facilitated planning in all subject areas by the allocation of time for teachers to meet as a subject department as part of the school’s involvement in the School Development Planning Initiative. The practice has been that four two-hour sessions are allocated annually to school development planning and that the second hour of these sessions is devoted to subject planning. This is considered good practice and means that the physical education department will have four formal meetings per year, of approximately one hour’s duration, for the next two academic years as part of the current cycle of planning activities in the school. The appointment of a formal subject co-ordinator, rotating among the physical education teachers, is recommended in order to take maximum advantage of these opportunities, although it is recognised that much of the planning that is taking place in the school happens informally through casual meeting and discussion among teachers.
Although formal subject department planning in Physical Education is at a relatively early stage of development compared to other subject areas in the school, the physical education department has, nonetheless, collated a range of very useful planning documentation. This includes a variety of reference and resource materials such as books, DVDs and videos as well as a range of useful materials downloaded from various websites. All of these are being appropriately utilised in the teaching of Physical Education in the school.
The school has been involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus since 2003 and the school’s three qualified physical education teachers have attended continuing professional development courses provided in connection with this. Excellent, well-designed schemes of work, detailing activities to be covered in each year group, have been documented and most core areas of activity are dealt with. The only area that is not being covered at junior cycle is aquatics, with the school’s lack of proximity to a swimming pool a significant disadvantage in this regard. It is recommended that the school continue to keep this matter under review so that it can avail of any opportunity that may arise in the future to gain access to any public or privately run pool. While a good balance of activities is maintained throughout the junior cycle physical education programme, the amount of adventure activities covered could be increased. As the school’s spacious, well-maintained grounds are ideal for activities such as orienteering, for example, an increase in the time allotted to adventure activities should be quite feasible. It is also recommended that the physical education department consider extending the length of the units of work for each aspect of the JCPE syllabus from the present four weeks to between six and eight weeks. This will facilitate greater depth of learning in specific activities and will also facilitate the use of rich task teaching methodologies which are recommended as part of the syllabus. The use of rich task methodologies is also recommended for senior cycle classes to add variety to the teaching and learning experience. This approach should be seen as a natural development of some of the excellent work in which students are already involved, such as the organisation of the school sports day and participation in a module of sport education. It is also considered good practice that, in acknowledging their maturity and capacity for self-direction, senior cycle students are provided with opportunities to make informed choices concerning the activities in which they participate in physical education lessons.
A good range of physical activities is provided as part of the school’s Transition Year (TY) programme. Among the activities provided are a three-day residential trip to an outdoor education centre, rugby and rowing coaching provided by external coaches, and sports education and nutrition modules. A GAA coaching module, which is provided as an extracurricular activity after school by one of the school’s teachers, is particularly noteworthy as it enables students to acquire a greater depth of knowledge and understanding of the activity than would be gained by participating as a player alone. The fact that TY students have the opportunity to apply this learning through coaching French exchange students in the skills of GAA is highly commended. Their involvement in the organisation of a sports day for first-year students is also commendable as it allows them to demonstrate initiative and gain valuable experience in organisation and working as a team. It is recommended that the physical education department keep the range of activities on offer in TY under regular review to make sure these meet the needs of students and that the school avails of any opportunities to add new activities to the programme.
A very good range of extracurricular activities is provided in the school, with hurling, camógie, basketball, football, athletics, golf and equestrian the main areas of student involvement. The commitment of staff to providing such activities is highly commended and the ample displays of team photographs in the corridors of the school is also commended as an effective method of promoting involvement in such activities as well as recognising the school’s successes in a variety of competitions.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was excellent. An excellent rapport exists between students and teachers and the level of co-operation and genuine respect observed between students and their peers was exemplary. This was particularly evident in lessons in which students with additional needs were present. The thoughtful, understanding manner in which classmates assisted these students enabled them to participate as fully as possible in physical education lessons and ensured a fulfilling and enjoyable experience for them. Management and teachers are highly commended for creating such a positive attitude towards students with additional learning needs and the physical education teachers are commended for the manner in which they regularly promoted the values of fair play and inclusion for all students during lessons.
Good safety practices were observed in all lessons and lessons typically started with a roll call after which teachers asked students to put any jewellery into a container provided. Lessons were very well planned, with a clear structure and rationale to all activities. Clear learning objectives were evident and continuity from previous lessons was established by the excellent practice of recapping on previous learning at the start of each lesson. General and directed questioning was regularly used during this phase of the lesson to test students’ recall and understanding. The practice of sharing learning objectives with students was also observed at the start of most lessons and this is regarded as good practice as it can help students to become more reflective performers and, when used together with other assessment for learning strategies, can lead to greater student autonomy in the learning process. Warm-up activities were varied and interesting and were appropriate to the topic of the lesson. Teachers’ demonstrations of stretching techniques assisted students in performing these stretches correctly and questioning regarding the names of various muscle groups being stretched revealed a good level of knowledge on the part of students.
Practices and drills in which students were involved exhibited a natural progression in difficulty and were clearly explained through the use of teacher and student demonstrations. The learning goals of these activities were clearly outlined and students were always given subsequent opportunities to apply learning from these practices in conditioned games. Students were afforded ample time for skill development in all lessons and the pace at which lessons developed was in line with students’ progress. Where practices or games needed to be adjusted to ensure a fulfilling learning experience or to ensure achievement of the lesson aims, teachers were generally adept at identifying the difficulty and making the required adjustment. Frequently, the nature of the difficulty and the reason for the adjustment were made clear to students through the use of skilful questioning. This is considered good practice as it helps to increase students’ understanding and helps them to refocus on the lesson objectives.
The reduced amount of material which could be covered by teachers in lessons of single-period duration was evident and the learning experience was consequently less rewarding for students. In a badminton lesson, for example, the time needed for students to change at the start and end of the lesson, as well as the time required to set up and take down the badminton nets, left a relatively short time for actual physical activity, bearing in mind that the lesson was of forty minutes duration. Consequently, despite the best efforts of the teacher, there was little opportunity for in-depth engagement with the subject matter in this lesson. Although the lesson was very well structured and students made every effort to complete the tasks set for them, it was obvious that they experienced some frustration in having to stop playing at a time when they were fully engaged in a very enjoyable learning activity.
Opportunities for self and group reflection were regularly provided and students were often invited to comment on their own and others’ learning in a safe, non-threatening environment. The appropriate use of these teaching methodologies is highly commended. Students received regular affirmation from teachers throughout all lessons and this contributed to a friendly atmosphere and had a positive motivational effect on students. Where correction was required it was offered in a sensitive manner, with teachers providing precise, focused information as to how performances could be improved. This is highly commended.
A very good range of assessment strategies is in place in the school to evaluate students’ learning in Physical Education. These include the use of quizzes and worksheets as appropriate. In addition to this, some students also maintain a folder in which they keep completed worksheets and assignments as well as other physical education resource materials. This is considered very good practice and should be extended to all year groups.
Physical Education is part of formal reports sent home to parents and a written comment on the performance of students is provided. This is considered appropriate to the needs of the subject. Teachers maintain records of students’ attendance and participation at physical education lessons and this information, together with students’ performance in tests and assignments and their general performance in class, is used to provide feedback to parents at parent-teacher 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.