An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Mallow, County Cork
Roll number: 71020G
Date of inspection: 25 April 2007
Date of issue of report: 17 January 2008
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Davis College, Mallow. 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 subject teacher. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teacher’s written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teacher. 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.
Davis College is a co-educational school under the auspices of Cork County Vocational Education Committee (CCVEC), with a total student enrolment of 323 students in its mainstream sector. An additional 344 students are enrolled in the school’s Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses. Physical Education is well supported in the school and is being delivered by a dedicated, fully qualified physical education teacher. The physical education department is very well stocked and the requisite equipment for the teaching of all aspects of the physical education curriculum has been provided by school management. The facilities available for the teaching of the subject are very good and include a physical education hall with balcony area, a grass pitch and a hardcourt area. Plans which the school has in place to purchase appropriate goalposts for the grass pitch are commended and it is suggested that the school consult the publication Goal Post Safety in Schools, issued by the State Claims Agency (2003), which is available for download at http://www.stateclaims.ie/RiskManagement/Goal_Post_Safety_04.pdf, in order to ensure that goalposts which are purchased meet the school’s requirements and comply with all relevant health and safety standards. The school is also commended for its initiative in arranging access to locally available facilities such as the local GAA complex and the fitness suite of a local hotel, as the use of these facilities broadens the scope of the school’s physical education curriculum. If available funds allow, it is recommended that the school consider purchasing some basic fitness equipment of its own which could be located in the balcony area of the physical education hall or any other location deemed suitable. The purchase of such equipment could be expected to impact positively on the physical education experience of all students but might be particularly beneficial to senior cycle, especially sixth-year, students not interested in the more traditional physical education activities.
The timetabled provision for the subject at junior cycle is a double period per class, per week. Although this time allocation is not uncommon in many second level schools, it is less than the Department of Education and Science recommendations of two hours per week (Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-05). It is of more concern, however, that the timetabled allocation at senior cycle is significantly less than the amount recommended. Despite the fact that Transition Year (TY) classes have a double period of Physical Education plus an additional double period of activities, many of which are physical activities, the school has only allocated one period of Physical Education to fifth-year classes and no timetabled Physical Education to sixth-year classes. This has to be considered inadequate and there is a significant danger that, by reducing the time allocated to Physical Education in senior cycle, the school may inadvertently create the impression that physical activity is a low priority for senior cycle students or that it is something that can be discarded as they are preparing for examinations. The impact of initiatives in other countries, such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK, have shown that schools which provided two hours of quality Physical Education per week accrued many benefits, not just confined to Physical Education. These included a better motivated and engaged student cohort, lower absentee rates and less discipline problems. All of these positive attributes can be expected to assist, rather than detract from, student achievement in the state examinations. Additionally, the recommendations of a variety of publications in this country such as the National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, European Year of Education through Sport (EYES) Report 2004, Reports of the Houses of the Oireachtas on Women in Sport 2004 and, School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005 have highlighted the vital role that quality Physical Education can play in the fight against obesity as well as its role in providing students with the foundation for an overall healthy, active lifestyle. Bearing these factors in mind, the school is encouraged to review the timetabled allocation for Physical Education with a view to providing Physical Education for all students in line with Department of Education and Science recommendations as soon as is practicable.
The quality of planning and preparation in Physical Education, both at a whole school level and with regard to individual lessons, is excellent. The school has been involved in the School Development Planning Initiative for some years now and has produced policies on discipline, health and safety, admissions, homework and special educational needs as part of this involvement. Subject planning is ongoing and the subject plan which is in place for Physical Education has been compiled using a template provided by management. This subject plan is of the highest quality, reflecting a considerable amount of thought and effort on behalf of the physical education teacher. Among the items documented in the plan are the aims and objectives of the subject, the time allocated, class organisation, teaching methodologies, strategies for assisting students with special educational needs, planning for cultural diversity, the use of information communications technology (ICT) in teaching, assessment, homework and record-keeping procedures. Additional, well-considered information is detailed regarding cross-curricular planning opportunities with other subjects on the curriculum such as Geography, Home Economics, Science, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Art. In addition to this, the teacher has collated a substantial array of planning documentation and materials for each topic on the physical education curriculum. These are held in individual folders and this facilitates ease of access to these materials as required. This level of detailed, purposeful planning is highly commended and is indicative of a thoroughly professional approach to the organisation and delivery of Physical Education in the school. The prominent display of rules for the use of the physical education hall at the entrance to it was also noted and this, too, is considered good practice from a health and safety perspective.
The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus and the physical education teacher has been facilitated to attend all continuing professional development opportunities provided as part of the implementation of the syllabus. The range of activities planned is in line with syllabus requirements, although a slight over-emphasis on games was noted. The only aspect of the syllabus that the school has not been able to provide to date is aquatics and, in order to rectify this, the school is encouraged to avail of any opportunity that presents itself to gain access to a swimming pool in the locality.
There is a very healthy level of provision of co-curricular and extracurricular activity in the school with a large number of students involved. Hurling/camógie, football, soccer, basketball and athletics are provided for both boys and girls and rugby is also provided for boys. The involvement of a significant number of teachers in providing these activities for students is commended and management is also commended for assigning duties in relation to the co-ordination of co-curricular activity to two teachers as part of the work of their special duties posts of responsibility. This is indicative of the high priority which these activities have within the school.
The range of activities provided in Transition Year (TY) is interesting and varied, in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the TY programme. Activities such as martial arts, GAA and badminton coaching, First Aid, rugby, hip-hop dance and a “Teen Fit” programme are provided. Opportunities for students to gain external certification for achievements as part of some of these activities, notably in First Aid, badminton and GAA coaching, are commended, as is the use of external coaches to deliver aspects of the programme which school staff would be unable to deliver. In addition to the above activities, TY students also go on a residential outdoor education course for two days and go on a day trip to the University of Limerick Activity Centre. The provision of this broad range of learning opportunities is highly commended.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was very good. All lessons were very thoroughly planned and ran very smoothly as a result. An extensive range of class materials, including handouts, control cards, maps and self-assessment cards was prepared in advance of each lesson and these were used purposefully to assist learning. The practice employed of outlining the lesson content at the start of the lesson is commended as this helps students to see the lesson in context with previous lessons. The teacher routinely used focused individual and group questioning during the introduction to the lesson to help students recap on learning that had taken place previously. This questioning was very well handled and revealed a very good level of recall and understanding among students. It is suggested that, in addition to outlining lesson content, lesson objectives should also be communicated to students at the start of lessons as this can help them to evaluate their own learning and become more reflective participants in the lesson. Students participated fully in a range of warm-up activities and responded well to teacher questioning regarding the names of various muscle groups that were being stretched during stretching and mobility exercises.
During the developments phase of the lesson, the teacher organised a series of interesting learning tasks for students each of which was successful in maintaining high levels of student activity and engagement. Key concepts were continually reinforced by the teacher and students regularly had to apply learning from earlier in the lesson or from previous lessons to successfully complete the tasks set. This is considered very good practice as it helps to reinforce learning. Opportunities were provided, during a lesson on health-related activity, for students to evaluate their own scores on a test of heart rate and to draw some basic conclusions regarding their cardiovascular fitness. This is commended as it encourages students to become self-analytical and to take responsibility for their own health and fitness. The manner in which this information was presented was also commendable as students were encouraged to look at their individual scores and not to see themselves as being in competition with their peers. In this regard, information provided by the teacher regarding the many innate and environmental factors that can affect heart rate scores was very appropriate as it encouraged students to see their scores as part of an overall picture of their physical composition. Although the high student activity levels observed during the inspection are commended, care needs to also be taken that too much material is not covered in a lesson, thereby militating against an in-depth engagement with the activities. In this regard, students engaged in a very enjoyable, challenging lesson on orienteering might have benefited from more time to assess and review strategies that they had employed in completing a set task before attempting another, more advanced task. Thus it is recommended that time be allowed for reflection after one or two such tasks have been attempted. The excellent teacher questioning, which was a feature of all lessons, can then be employed to focus students’ attention on key decisions which they made and on alternative approaches to answering set tasks.
All classes ran very efficiently with the teacher in control of a well-ordered learning environment where discipline was unforced but clearly evident. The high student activity levels maintained a positive, business like atmosphere in the lessons and there was an excellent rapport in evidence between teacher and students. Students’ performances during the lessons observed, as well as their responses to questioning from both the teacher and the inspector indicates that they are achieving to a very good level in Physical Education.
There is an excellent system of assessment in place in Physical Education in the school. Records of attendance and participation are maintained for each physical education lesson and assessment is through informal observation. Detailed assessment records are maintained regarding skill development, performance, knowledge, participation and social development for each student following each block of learning. These records are used to inform written reporting in Physical Education which takes place between two and four times per year, depending on the year group. In these reports, the teacher makes a general comment on the achievement of each student during each block of learning. The focus of these comments is the provision of precise, formative information to students and their parents regarding learning that has taken place and to provide a direction for future learning. This approach is commended. In addition to assessment by informal observation, opportunities are also provided for students to engage in self assessment and peer assessment during physical education lessons. The use of such innovative assessment strategies is highly commended as this can be very beneficial in maintaining students’ engagement and increasing their sense of ownership of the learning process. Records maintained are also used to provide information to parents at parent-teacher meetings, which take place once per year for all year groups and all of which are attended by the physical education teacher,.
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 teacher 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.