An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Saint Benildus College

Stillorgan, County Dublin

Roll number: 60261R


Date of inspection: 29 November 2007





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations





Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education



Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. Benildus College, Stillorgan, conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum for all students, with the exception of students who follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). It was reported that the provision for the subject has increased significantly over the past ten years, which is commendable. All class groups in junior cycle and in the established Leaving Certificate now receive one double period of Physical Education per week, of eighty or ninety minutes duration. Whilst the present provision and timetable arrangements for the subject are adequate to implement a comprehensive Physical Education programme, the time devoted to the subject is below the two hours per week recommended by the Department of Education and Science in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/2005. It is also regrettable that LCVP students do not receive any Physical Education on their timetables. Management is encouraged to work towards providing Physical Education for all students in line with the aforementioned recommendation.


The school places a high value on the role of physical activity as part of the holistic educational development of its students. This is exemplified in the Transition Year (TY) programme, where students are timetabled for fourteen periods of physical activity per week. This programme is run on a modular basis for the four class groups, with four periods per week delivered by the Physical Education department. Ample opportunities are provided within this programme for students to experience in-depth study and involvement in physical activity, exercise and sport. It is important that the Physical Education department continue to have a significant input into the organisation of the programme and its underlying philosophy and implementation. This will ensure that valuable Physical Education learning experiences are not lost to students during their participation in these activities. Management’s support for this programme, through the allocation of time, financial resources, facilities and the deployment of teaching staff is highly commended.


The Physical Education department is composed of three teachers, all of whom are qualified in the subject. Although the majority of the Physical Education classes are taken by the qualified Physical Education teachers, the timetable arrangements result in some non-qualified Physical Education teachers taking some of the class groups. Fifth and sixth-year classes are timetabled concurrently and the Physical Education programme is organised on a modular basis and delivered under the guidance of the qualified Physical Education teachers. Whilst the non-qualified Physical Education teachers may have some coaching qualifications and expertise in the particular activity that they provide, it is best practice that only qualified teachers be deployed to teach the subject. This is especially applicable where a non-qualified Physical Education teacher is solely responsible for the Physical Education of a first-year class. The quality of Physical Education that can be offered by teachers who do not possess the appropriate qualification may be quite limited and there may also be a health and safety risk associated with their deployment. A Physical Education teacher is expected to develop students’ knowledge, skills and understanding of the underlying principles of human movement through a broad range of physical activities and experiences. Additionally, a Physical Education professional is expected to have a high level of awareness of safe practice in all areas of physical activity. Therefore, it is recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications to teach Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject.


Support for continuing professional development is good, and it is commendable that the Physical Education teachers have attended in-service for the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and the recent Action for Life programme. The revised syllabus is currently being implemented in the school.


There are excellent facilities and resources to support teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. The development of these facilities and resources is very much attributable to the innovative foresight and entrepreneurial skills of senior management, staff and the trustees. There are four Astroturf pitches measuring thirty by forty metres approximately, with each pitch fully enclosed and floodlit. The school has four pitches for Gaelic games and two soccer pitches, one of which is excellently presented to full international standard. The school has a large sports hall with adjacent storerooms. Some of the covering grilles on the extractor fans in the sports hall should be replaced as some large gaps are visible that may present a safety risk. The school has recently assumed ownership of a fully equipped fitness suite with state-of-the-art cardio-vascular machines, resistance machines and free weights. In addition, there is an aerobics room that can also be used as a dance studio and one small room that may be used as a classroom, a reception area, a relaxation area and an office. The school has entered into several collaborative arrangements with local sports clubs and organisers to ensure that their facilities are fully utilised to the betterment of the school and the community. These exemplary arrangements ensure that students in the school are provided with fully accessible top-class sports, exercise and leisure facilities.


Sport plays a significant role in the life of the school and the walls are adorned with photographs of past and present teams and individuals that have represented the school in a wide variety of sports. These sports include athletics, badminton, basketball, Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and table-tennis. In addition, students who are attached to local golf clubs are facilitated to represent the school in their age-groups at local and regional competitions. The achievements of the school across all of the activities are to a very high standard, with past students having gone on to represent their county and, in one case, their country at European and World championships and at Olympic level. Non-competitive participation by students in most sports provided by the school takes place at lunch time, and is supervised by teachers as part of the normal supervision roster. This is commendable practice, as it ensures that all students have regular opportunities to participate in some physical activity as well as optimising the use of the school’s excellent facilities.


A “sports-council” was established a number of years ago by a group of teachers who had significant involvement in the organisation and delivery of the various extra-curricular activities in the school. The sports council is now composed of staff representatives from all of the activities provided by the school and aims to ensure that the provision for extra-curricular sports is to the best possible standard. The sports council meets once per month and has established a charter of core values that guides the provision of sport in the school, including the adoption and adherence to the Irish Sports Council’s Code of Ethics and Good Practice for Children’s Sport in Ireland. Each meeting is well run with a set agenda and agreed minutes presented. A review of the documentation indicates that significant issues are addressed, such as ensuring that all students have access to some form of physical activity and that competitive fixtures occur in a balanced manner to ensure that students’ academic progress is unimpeded as a result of their participation. Furthermore, the sports council runs a series of fundraising events for charity, one of which is the annual St. Benildus “Run for Life”. This event has raised a significant amount of money through corporate sponsorship and monies raised by the participants. The establishment and role of the sports council is exemplary and the engagement of this group of teachers in regular meetings to reflect on the quality of provision, uptake and organisational matters is highly commended. The role played by all teachers involved in the provision of extra-curricular activities in developing a sense of school identity and achievement cannot be underestimated. The reported numbers of students participating in the provided activities is a credit to their organisation and delivery.


The school has established extensive links with local sports clubs through the use and sharing of facilities. Through these arrangements, students are encouraged to access these sports clubs and to develop their talents and interests in their chosen sports, which is commendable.


Planning and preparation


A formal subject department planning meeting is provided by senior management at the start of the year to facilitate the development of the Physical Education programme. Each member of the Physical Education department takes responsibility for the coordination of the subject, which is rotated each term. Whilst it is commendable that all teachers share the responsibility for the coordination of the subject and each gains valuable experience from the role, it is recommended that the duration be extended to an annual basis to allow sufficient time for each teacher to develop the role further. A collaborative approach is taken by the Physical Education teachers to plan common programmes of work for each year group. Regular lunch time meetings take place between all members of the subject department, to support the organisation and delivery of the planned programme. The documenting of subject department meetings is good practice, as the retention of these records will help to identify the evolution of the subject provision, the planned programme and the rationale underpinning its development. However, it is suggested that a standard template document be used to record the decisions taken and actions assigned. This will ensure consistency of practice and that the proceedings of each meeting are systematically referenced. 


It is commendable that there is close collaboration between the Physical Education department and the sports council with regards to the promotion of physically active lifestyles, the running of the school’s annual sports day and various charity and extra-curricular activities and games.


There is good engagement with subject planning. A detailed subject plan has been developed, which integrates the school’s mission statement with the guiding aims and objectives for the subject. More detailed aims and objectives are highlighted for junior cycle, TY and the established Leaving Certificate. In addition, the subject planning document includes commendable references to inclusion of students with special educational needs, catering for cultural diversity as well as identifying some useful cross-curricular links with Geography, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Science and Maths. A list of detailed rules governing students’ participation and use of facilities are included as part of the subject’s health and safety considerations. A general overview of the programme content and organisation for each year group is documented, and some of the teaching, learning and assessment procedures are identified. The production of this document gives a good overview of the Physical Education programme in the school and is commended.


Short-term plans for the subject are well developed and it is welcomed to see that the Physical Education department has adopted some of the planning documents advocated by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) to provide a framework for the content overview. The content plan at junior cycle indicates that four of the strands of the revised syllabus are covered over the three-year cycle. In addition, all junior cycle students will participate in a one-day trip to an outdoor education centre. There is scope for the inclusion of the adventure activities strand of the syllabus (team-challenges, orienteering and campcraft), which may be covered prior to students embarking on their annual outdoor education trips. The inclusion of these outdoor education trips for junior cycle students is commendable.


Units of work were presented that documented the aims and objectives and content for each block of activity. There is scope for the further development of these plans to include more detailed identification of the intended learning outcomes, highlighting the most appropriate teaching, learning and assessment strategies for each unit of work. There is also some scope in the planning documents to identify opportunities for the expansion of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as part of the teaching and learning process for suitable activities modules. The Physical Education department is directed to the DVD “Digital Video in Physical Education”, which was delivered to every post-primary school in 2005. Prior to introducing the use of digital video recording and topic-specific websites, the Physical Education department should consult the website of the National Centre for Technology in Education ( This will assist with the development of an acceptable usage policy to address the ethical considerations around using image capture technology and the internet.


The planned TY programme provides for a variety of activities, some of which include certification upon completion. Modules covered within this programme include aquatics, self-defence, hockey, Gaelic games coaching, tennis, bowling and a seven-week nutrition module. Students also participate in an adventure weekend in a residential outdoor education centre. The Physical Education department liaises with the TY coordinator and has some input into planning this programme. This is important, as it maintains continuity and builds upon the learning experiences students have acquired at junior cycle. 


The senior cycle programme is mostly games orientated with some focus on resistance and cardio-vascular training. There is scope to integrate these activities and plan for a more in-depth understanding of all the factors influencing participation and performance. The availability of the health and fitness facility provides a significant opportunity for the Physical Education department to develop the senior cycle plan to include the kinesiological aspects of human functionality and health-related fitness, as well as the principles of training and physical development. To this end, the Physical Education department could engage with the sport education model, which aims to address all aspects related to participation and performance in a selected sport.


Teaching and learning


There is a good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. Students complied with the established code of behaviour when changing and assembling at the designated activity venue. Teachers have established a clear system of recording attendance and outlining the focused topic of the lesson to their students. All lessons were well prepared and the lesson plans presented provided clear structure and progression for students’ learning. All equipment was set-up prior to students’ arrival and this prior preparation ensured a prompt start to all lessons.


In the lessons visited, the topics covered were basketball, tag rugby and volleyball. In most cases teachers shared the intended learning outcomes with their students, which is good practice. This ensures that students remain focused during their lesson and can gauge their progress against the established criteria for success. The fixed whiteboard in the sports hall is a valuable asset and its use is encouraged to display the key tasks and to record student responses.


All lessons commenced with warm-up activities, which were appropriate to the age and ability levels of students. Teachers ensured that the warm-up time was spent productively by revising the skill patterns and content from previous lessons and gradually increasing the intensity of the activities. In some cases, students led the stretching activities and this good practice provided valuable opportunities for them to lead their peers and demonstrate their knowledge, technical competence and understanding, as they were also required to explain the correct techniques and benefits of the exercises. The provision and use of such opportunities for students to clearly demonstrate and apply their learning are commendable.


Lessons progressed through a series of skill-based practices designed to improve acquisition of the core skills of the focused game. In most cases, the design of the tasks, the amount of equipment used and the use of the available space ensured that students were optimally engaged. It is important that teachers ensure that the work-to-rest ratio and the amount of equipment available are sufficient to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to optimise success during skill acquisition practices.


There was a good commitment to oral questioning in all lessons observed. Teachers ensured that questions were targeted to named students and there was a good mix of recall and higher-order questioning. This important strategy ensured that students were cognitively involved in their learning and developed their understanding of key concepts. In most cases, lesson progression was well signposted and this practice facilitated students to establish clear links between the tasks and their application to the focused game. There was some good use of subject-specific terminology and it is recommended that all teachers extend its use to immerse students in all aspects of human movement.


Students were actively engaged in their lessons and participation levels were high.  It is welcome to learn that some strategies have been developed for the inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the physical activities of the lesson. It is suggested that these strategies be further developed and consolidated to ensure that these students continue to be actively engaged in the Physical Education process.


Teachers have developed a good rapport with their students, and lessons were conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Students were responsive to all tasks set and were regularly affirmed for their efforts, which is commendable. At times, individual attention was given to students who were experiencing difficulties with some of the technical aspects of their tasks. In these cases, students were dealt with in a sensitive and positive manner. Students made good progress in their skill acquisition as a result of receiving individual guidance from their teachers, which is highly commended. 


Most lessons concluded with a recap on the key points, and students’ understanding was determined through some well directed questions. In some cases, students assisted teachers to put away the equipment and tidy up after their lesson. Students clearly enjoyed their Physical Education lessons.




Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance, participation and attainment in Physical Education. Comments regarding students’ progress in Physical Education are included in reports to parents twice per year, which is in line with standard practice. Whilst it is commendable that the Physical Education teachers attend parent-teacher meetings for all junior cycle classes, this practice should be extended to all year groups, as it ensures that parents view the subject as an integral part of the education process in the school.


Questioning and observation are the most dominant forms of assessment used to determine learning in the Physical Education setting. The Physical Education department has begun to review some of the assessment materials produced by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service such as self and peer-assessment and the completion of rich tasks. The implementation of these strategies is recommended, as they have been shown to help students develop a more in-depth understanding of the key concepts of the focused topics.


Whilst some work has been undertaken in the area of assessing students’ progress in Physical Education, there is scope for the development of a more comprehensive approach to assessing students’ learning. It is recommended that the Physical Education department invest some time in developing a systematic approach to determining students’ learning on completion of each module. It is important that a system is established to retain the work completed by students in each module so that it can be used to formulate a portfolio of learning. The development of student portfolios of learning will help to illustrate students’ progress in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding as well as their progress in the acquisition of the technical and tactical aspects associated with the focused activities. The retention and storage of the materials produced by students must also be carefully considered and planned.


There was a high participation rate and work ethic observed during the inspection. Students were confident in their responses to questions and were able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the focused topics.


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 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