An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
53 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60820E
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto 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 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, deputy 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.
Physical Education is highly valued in the Loreto College and is provided as a core subject on the curriculum. There are two qualified teachers of Physical Education delivering a comprehensive programme in the school. Both teachers share the responsibilities of coordinating the subject. Management supports this shared role by providing regular opportunities to enable the Physical Education teachers to engage in collaborative planning and subject development. This level of commitment is very good as it provides meeting time for the teachers to engage in self-review, evaluation and planning for high quality Physical Education in the school.
Management is highly commended for its support in the continuing professional development of the Physical Education teachers. This is exemplified by the facilitation of attendance at Department of Education and Science inservice, the subscriptions to subject periodicals and the purchasing of reference resources. In addition, management also funds the teachers’ attendance at relevant Physical Education conferences and their affiliation to the Physical Education Association of Ireland. Regular professional development brings added experience and innovation to the Physical Education department and is of benefit to all students. The school has recently participated in the inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and is now actively implementing this programme in the school.
All first and second-year students receive one double period of Physical Education per week. Third-year students receive one period per week of forty minutes duration. Transition Year students receive one double period of Physical Education and an additional period dedicated to aerobic development. Senior cycle students receive one period of Physical Education per week. With the exception of Transition Year, the present allocation is below the recommended two hours of Physical Education per week, as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/2005, (pages 7, 141). It is recommended that management review the current level of provision for junior and senior cycle students. PE teachers have attended inservice and are presently implementing the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. To fully implement the new syllabus in Physical Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recommends that a minimum of one double period of PE per week is allocated to all junior cycle students. To optimise learning, sufficient time should be provided for students to engage fully in a physical, cognitive and social level with the topic of study. An allocation of one period per week is short and as a result the opportunity to expand and explore higher order technical aspects of the subject is compromised. However, the teachers are highly commended for the process and procedures implemented to optimise physical activity and learning within the present time constraints.
Management is highly commended for its innovative approach to the time provision for Physical Education in Transition Year. A dedicated period once a week for aerobic development has many health-related benefits, particularly for this age group who are at an optimal receptive stage for metabolic fitness. In addition, the status given to health-related physical activity by the school serves to illustrate its importance as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.
The school provides a large indoor sports hall and outdoor Astroturf pitch. Despite being slightly smaller than regulation size, the Astroturf pitch is an ideal teaching and training facility. It has been developed as a multi-purpose playing area. Additional markings for three tennis courts and an outdoor basketball court add to the range of functions applicable to this resource. The pitch is fully utilised by the school and the adjoining junior school. The school deserves much credit for pursuing and providing such a valuable facility. The sports hall is equipped with all the necessary floor markings to provide for the broadest range of indoor activities. These facilities are excellently maintained and fully utilised. In addition, there is an ample supply of equipment available to maximise participation in all strands of the syllabus provided by the Physical Education department. All equipment is neatly stored for ease of access in accordance with appropriate health and safety guidelines. An annual budget is allocated to the Physical Education department on receipt of a comprehensive list of intended expenditure. A well structured system is in place for the administration of this budget.
The Physical Education department maintains a well resourced video, digital video disc (DVD), and music collection. A portable stereo, television and combined video and DVD player is available as a teaching and learning tool. Access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is available within the main school building if required by the teachers or students. The school is encouraged to expand the use of multi-media and ICT to the sports-hall. Access on demand to such a resource may help to facilitate research, provide online technical demonstrations of exercises, as well as topic specific information, with minimum disruption to the flow of a lesson. In addition, the availability of digital video and still photography has many applications in the teaching and learning of biomechanical movement principles.
An extensive extra-curricular programme is in place in Loreto College. The Physical Education teachers, some external coaches, parents as well as members of the teaching staff help to implement the diverse programme of activities. Of particular note is the involvement of former students of Loreto College who return to help coach some of the junior teams. Such involvement is testament to the success of the programme and is worthy of high praise. Several sports are catered for on an ongoing basis, including hockey, basketball, tennis, athletics and swimming. A comprehensive timetable includes early morning swimming, lunchtime and after school activities. Some of these activities include general fitness training, such as junior circuit training, illustrating the strong emphasis placed on physical wellbeing by the Physical Education department. The practice of linking physical fitness and wellbeing with fundraising activities is also noteworthy. The “Pink Ribbon Aerobics Day” is exemplary practice as it establishes a clear link between physical activity and good health, as well as raising money for a very worthwhile cause. Student involvement in the organisation and administration of the extra-curricular activities is highly commended. A student committee is established for each of the main competitive activities. The students, under the guidance of the Physical Education teachers, conduct the organisation and administration of these activities. This is exemplary practice as it gives ownership and responsibility to the students for the development and success of each sporting activity within the school. Such practice develops confidence and leadership skills amongst the students, and ensures the successful development of the extra-curricular programme.
Timetabled meeting times facilitate the teachers in discussing all aspects related to the Physical Education and extra-curricular physical activity programmes. Meetings are structured to facilitate the short-term and long-term direction of the subject, with all relevant details documented in keeping with good practice. There is a strong collaborative effort amongst the staff to ensure that all aspects of the subject are effectively planned.
There is a strong sense of functional planning within the Physical Education department. A detailed subject plan is available and includes a specific mission statement, curriculum policy statement and clearly defined aims and objectives. Planning also includes all aspects related to student access, levels of ability, class organisation as well as planning for resources and effective teaching methodologies. Considerable attention has been given to the style of teaching appropriate to each activity and this is documented in the subject plan. Reference to the Moston and Ashworth Spectrum of Teaching Styles (1986) is highly commendable and is illustrative of the reflective practice of the teachers. An awareness of the teaching approach helps to ensure that students are stimulated in a variety of ways ranging from command-led instruction to reciprocal teaching and guided discovery. The detail of cross-curricular planning is particularly noteworthy and includes an analysis of elements such as themes and skills that have application across the entire curriculum. For example, the links between Home Economics and junior cycle Science serve to encourage students to establish an association between these subjects and their own learning in Physical Education. The teachers are highly commended for such detailed analysis of the opportunities for students to develop higher order associative thinking in Physical Education.
The subject plan includes specific reference to students with special educational needs in Physical Education. Components of an activity that may be adapted to improve the opportunity for the learner are clearly identified, such as the rules and instructions relevant to the activity, the equipment and the mechanics of movement. Detailed strategies for inclusion of persons with motor or sensory impairments are also outlined. This attention to detail is to be highly commended as it ensures that all students are provided with the opportunity to participate and learn within Physical Education.
The Physical Education teachers have developed a comprehensive junior cycle, Transition Year and senior cycle plan, in line with syllabus guidelines. A detailed framework outlining the placement of activity blocks specific to each year group is included in the content plan. Planning for units of work is comprehensive and each unit plan contains intended learning outcomes, lesson content and relevant teaching points. This is highly commendable practice. It is recommended that teachers build on the excellent planning to date by including planning for assessment in future units of work. This may include aspects such as modes, processes of implementation and criteria of assessment.
The Transition Year (TY) programme in the school includes a range of diverse physical activities in keeping with the philosophy of the programme. Self-development and leadership skills form a major part of the TY programme. Options are planned for the students to acquire umpiring and coaching qualifications. Modules are planned to include a major emphasis on health-related physical activity. Other activities include a residential course at an Outdoor Education Centre. All of these modules are commendable as they serve to develop an appreciation of the interaction between lifelong physical activity and the physical environment.
An extensive range of resources is available to support learning and teaching in Physical Education in the school. The Physical Education department has carefully planned for the acquisition of these resources including, videos, charts and texts as well as a broad range of specialist items. A well-maintained large storage area is dedicated to the filing of topic specific support resources. All resources are easily accessed prior to or during lessons, and planning for the use of resources is included in the unit plans. This is highly commendable practice as it promotes efficiency in preparation of lessons for effective teaching and learning.
The Physical Education teachers are to be commended for planning to develop their own competencies in the use of ICT. Planning for the use of ICT in lessons is limited to the use of word-processing and the internet for some project work. It is recommended that teachers, where possible, plan methods of integrating some ICT, such as digital video, into Physical Education lessons. This will serve to increase the movement analysis competencies of the students. Long-term planning to provide access to broadband enabled computers within the sports-hall area will enhance the educational opportunity provided by ICT.
A comprehensive statement regarding “Safety in Physical Education in Loreto College” also forms part of the subject plan. This document outlines, in detail, the safety considerations and procedures in place to promote safe participation in all physical activities. Consideration is given to the need to provide challenging and progressive activities that develop initiative, determination and courage within a safe environment. This is exemplary practice.
There is a uniformly strong Physical Education department in Loreto College, with high quality teaching and learning in all Physical Education lessons observed. Teachers are highly motivated and enthusiastic about their subject and this was visibly transferred to students. In the classes visited, the topics taught included aerobics, health-related fitness circuits and gymnastics. All lessons commenced with a record of attendance, followed by assignment of students to equipment and preparation of the learning environment. Teachers have adapted well to the time constraints imposed by lessons of single period duration. Student compliance with punctuality and efficient systems of recording attendance and deployment of equipment help to optimise the time for activity and learning. Students were purposefully reminded of the correct handling and set-up procedures for all items of equipment, and this led to safe and expedient preparation for the lessons. Systematic and structured procedures optimise the time available for engagement in activities and also help to focus students for the forthcoming lesson. Safety instructions develop an awareness of personal and group safety and the establishment of these practices is to be highly commended.
Lessons were well structured with clear transitions between the warm-up, development and cool-down or evaluation phases. Students were appropriately warmed up with mobility exercises related to the topics of study. In all cases, stretching activities were conducted to encourage good joint range-of-motion. Demonstrations were of a very high quality and students were familiar and technically competent in executing each exercise. Teachers should broaden the use of topic specific terminology and to encourage students to establish the relationships between the muscle group, related joints and biomechanical alignment.
The purpose and intended learning outcomes were shared with students at the commencement of each lesson. This good practice is commendable as it clearly focuses students at the start of the lesson and helps promote a sense of achievement once tasks have been completed. Clear links were established between previously learned skills, and revision of these helped the introduction of new, progressive tasks. In all lessons observed, there was very good concentration on developing competency to execute skills and then apply these in progressively more complex activities. Several examples of this practice were evident in the classes visited, ranging from increasingly more complex upper-body and lower-limb combination steps in aerobics, to a combination of travelling and balances in order to promote fluency of transitions in a gymnastics sequence. Student engagement with the activities and tasks set was at a high level, under the skilful direction of the teachers. The teachers gave instructions with precision and clarity and this facilitated progression and acquisition of competency by the students. Music was used in all lessons as a stimulus for movement and both the selection and placement of the music contributed to the atmosphere and overall effectiveness of lessons.
A range of effective teaching methodologies was used to develop and reinforce learning, including teacher-led demonstrations, student demonstration and questioning to determine understanding of the tasks set. Teachers are encouraged to expand on these good practices and to challenge students, cognitively as well as physically, to establish a broader understanding of key components such as aesthetic, physiological or biomechanical aspects.
Classroom leadership was firm and affirming and an effective working atmosphere was created. This increased student enthusiasm for the subject in an atmosphere of mutual respect and positive interpersonal interactions. A good sense of fun and enjoyment also served to enrich the students learning experience. In one situation, students worked in small groups completing a health-related fitness circuit. They encouraged and tutored each other whilst completing each exercise. The commendable practice of peer interaction provides for very valuable educational opportunities and serves to motivate students in their learning. Students were regularly affirmed for their efforts in all tasks and individual attention was given when required. Differentiation of tasks for students with varying abilities was skilfully executed, illustrating the interest and understanding of the teachers of the needs of each of their students. This is highly commendable practice.
The learning environment was well presented. Posters displaying technical points and movement progressions were on display in the sports-hall, and the use of music helped to create a positive and stimulating environment for learning. Such multi-sensory approaches in Physical Education are to be commended. Student participation and engagement with the tasks set were purposeful and to a very high standard. A high-level of skilful competency was observed, illustrating the quality of learning that has taken place over time in the subject. In cases where students were unable to physically participate, a range of tasks was set to include these students in the lessons. This is good practice as it encourages students to engage in the subject at a practical, organisational, and cognitive level.
The Physical Education department maintain extensive records of student attendance, participation and attainment in the subject. In addition, participation in organised extra-curricular activities is recorded to develop a profile of the physical activity patterns of each student. A colour-coded portfolio provides an excellent reference for discussion at staff level or at parent-teacher meetings. This level of on-going analysis is highly commendable as it allows for early identification and intervention to help students who may not be engaging in regular physical activity.
Physical Education forms part of the formal reporting process to parents and takes place twice a year. Physical Education teachers also attend all parent-teacher meetings in keeping with good practice. Reports are comment-based and the Physical Education department has developed a bank of subject specific comments. This is commendable practice as it provides more focused information for parents on student progression in the subject.
A variety of modes of assessment are used by the Physical Education teachers during classes and at the end of units of work. These include informal assessment during classes through observation and questioning. The level of engagement of students in the completion of set tasks is commendable. Other forms of assessment include objective measurements in physical fitness tests. This twice-yearly information is used as an educational strategy. It serves to inform students of the status of their physical fitness and to identify factors that negatively or positively influence its development. Teachers have identified three categories for assessment of performance at the conclusion of each unit of work. These are, (i) working within, (ii) achieved and (iii) working beyond. This system allows teachers to take cognisance of each student’s initial standard of performance and to compare progression over time. The teachers view this system as a “work in progress” and they have clearly identified the development of assessment modes and criteria as one of their priorities. A high level of self-review is evident within the Physical Education department and this is exemplary.
As part of the new junior cycle syllabus, teachers have incorporated some of the innovative assessment strategies into lessons and units of work. These include the use of self-assessment to promote assessment for learning, peer-assessment to develop technical analytical ability and rich tasks to encourage participation and engagement in the completion of a set task. This diversity of approach helps students to set achievable and realistic goals and to engage with the subject matter both physically and cognitively as reflective participants. It is recommended that teachers continue to expand the application of these strategies and continue to develop a comprehensive set of assessment criteria.
Participation rates in Physical Education and extra-curricular activity are high in Loreto College. There is very good student engagement and achievement across the strands of the curriculum. Skill competency is very good. Students are achieving to a high level in Physical Education and they are a credit to the quality practices in place in the school.
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, the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.