An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta


Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Saint Mary’s Secondary School

Mallow, County Cork

Roll number: 62350D


Date of inspection: 10 December 2007

Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008

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. Mary’s Secondary School, 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 was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.


Subject provision and whole school support


St. Mary’s Secondary School is an all-girls post-primary school with an enrolment of 550 students. There is one qualified teacher of Physical Education in the school who oversees the delivery of a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education. The dedication and enthusiasm which this teacher brings to physical education lessons and to the culture of health and physical activity within the school was clearly evident during the inspection and is greatly valued by school management.


The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are excellent. A new, fully equipped physical education hall has been built in recent years and this is the main facility used for physical education lessons. There are also three outdoor basketball courts, a tennis court and a GAA pitch available and the old hall, which is now occasionally used as a school theatre, is still available for physical education lessons should the need arise. All facilities are very well maintained and all necessary materials are provided for the teaching of the subject. A budget for the purchase of equipment and materials is allocated to the physical education department following annual submissions to the board of management. It is considered good practice that the physical education department has discretion as to how the budgetary allocation is spent and the extensive range of resources, including computer, DVD player, CD player, books and reference materials that are available indicate that the annual budget is being spent in a prudent manner.


The timetabled provision for Physical Education has to be considered insufficient to meet the physical education and physical activity requirements of teenage girls and planning documentation examined indicates an awareness of this issue. The current allocation of a single period to all students in junior cycle, and a similar allocation for many students in senior cycle, falls far short of the Department of Education and Science recommendations of a minimum of two hours per student, per week (Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-05). At a time when obesity, general levels of health and fitness and dropout from physical activity among teenagers in general and teenage girls in particular are causing concern (National Task Force on Obesity Report 2005, School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI, 2005, Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board) there is an onus on schools to provide appropriate levels of Physical Education for all students in the hope of encouraging them to lead an active, healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the evidence of initiatives such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK indicates that schools that provide two hours of quality Physical Education per week to all students accrue other benefits, not just related to Physical Education and health, including a greater motivated student cohort, less absenteeism and a reduction in behaviour problems. The school is therefore encouraged to revisit timetabling arrangements for Physical Education with a view to providing all students with timetabled physical education lessons in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations.


It is acknowledged that providing additional time for Physical Education may necessitate the recruitment of an additional physical education teacher. Such a move could have many advantages for the school. Apart from the obvious timetabling flexibility which this would provide, the availability of a second professional in the subject area should help to alleviate some of the workload involved in the organisation and running of the physical education department which currently falls on the school’s only physical education teacher. It would also help to overcome the difficulty whereby a teacher who does not hold physical education teaching qualifications is currently timetabled for a very small amount of Physical Education with a group of students who have additional educational needs. The school is encouraged to consider this option, even if this involves employing an additional teacher on a part-time basis, as, apart from the reasons mentioned above, the school also has a clear duty of care to its students to ensure that they are in the care of a teacher with appropriate qualifications at all times.



Planning and preparation


The quality of planning and preparation observed in this school was excellent. A thorough, comprehensive range of planning materials has been collated and planning is conscientiously focused on the needs of the school. Among the items dealt with in the physical education plan are details of the organisation of the subject in the school, the rationale for Physical Education, modules of activities, teaching and learning strategies and methodologies employed. Very comprehensive schemes of work, including details of specific material to be covered in individual lessons have been produced, reflecting a commendable amount of thought and effort on behalf of the school’s physical education teacher.


The emphasis on the welfare and education of the individual student, and how Physical Education can hope to contribute to this, emerges clearly from the physical education plan. As such, the school’s mission statement provides the foundation and the rationale for all physical education planning activities. This is commended. Additionally, under headings such as “students’ progression and continuity”, “assessment” and “monitoring procedures” there is a clear emphasis on the need for students to become reflective performers and to critically evaluate their own learning. This is commended as it can help students to become autonomous, self-directed learners. With this in mind it is recommended that the physical education department plan for the use of a rich task approach at senior cycle with a view to encouraging senior cycle students to take more responsibility for their own learning through providing them with more opportunities for self-directed learning. During one or two blocks of activity for example, students could be asked to organise a mini-tournament or other sporting event, where they would have to learn the main skills and rules of the activity and then organise and run an event involving all class members. Activities such as a gymnastics or dance display, athletics event or basketball tournament might be suitable for this, bearing in mind students’ interests. Students would have responsibility for volunteering for different roles based on their talents and interests, thus emphasising the possibility of participating in sport and physical activity through many different avenues. The teacher would then adopt the role of facilitator of this learning experience and would have a key role in guiding students during the activity and focusing their self-evaluation at the end of each lesson and at the end of the block of work. Providing such opportunities should enable students to acquire higher-order skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation and can be a highly fulfilling educational experience. It also provides opportunities for high activity levels among all students and enables those who are injured or who cannot physically participate in a lesson to become meaningfully involved in the lesson in other ways, whether as timekeeper, scorekeeper, coach, referee or through some other officiating role. Senior cycle classes who currently have a double period of Physical Education would appear to be an obvious target for such an approach and the level of diligence and enthusiasm with which these students applied themselves to physical education lessons observed during the inspection indicates that they would be well placed to benefit from such learning opportunities. Learning opportunities currently afforded to TY students, whereby they are involved in assisting and organising some extracurricular activities, are commended and should serve as a natural entry point to the use of a rich task approach in physical education lessons at senior cycle.


The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus although it is difficult to see how the aims of the syllabus can be achieved within the current timetabled allocation which does not meet the recommendations of the relevant Department of Education and Science circulars (M26/04, M15/05). The short time allocation also limits the range of teaching methodologies that can be employed and means that the rich task approach which is recommended as part of the syllabus implementation cannot be effectively delivered. The range of activities planned is in keeping with the aims of the syllabus as sufficient breadth and balance is provided to give students a solid foundation in physical activity. The only area of activity which the school is not currently able to provide is aquatics and the school is encouraged to provide this if possible. The provision of this activity is, again, hindered by the short time allocation to Physical Education and difficulties in gaining access to the locally available swimming pool which is heavily used by local primary schools. The school is encouraged to keep this area under review with a view to providing aquatics to students at some future date. This may involve identifying a time at which the local swimming pool is available and constructing the physical education timetable for some junior cycle classes around this availability. Management is commended for facilitating the attendance of the school’s physical education teacher at all continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities provided as part of the implementation of the JCPE syllabus.


A very good range of extracurricular activity is provided in the school with basketball, Gaelic football, camógie, tennis, badminton and orienteering among the main areas of involvement. In order to maximise opportunities for participation among students, some of these activities are provided during lunch breaks. The school’s aim in providing these activities, cited as providing opportunities for students to develop personally, socially and physically through participation in physical activities in a safe and enjoyable environment, is applauded. The commitment of teachers, parents and members of the local community in assisting in the provision of these activities is greatly valued by management and is commended. A person with extensive experience in First Aid is also used to deliver modules of this activity to students. The impact which the involvement of this person is having on the students is hugely positive and the school is commended for securing her services.


The Transition Year (TY) programme is operating in accordance with the spirit of TY, in providing a range of interesting learning opportunities to students which are not available to them in other years. Activities provided include a week-long, residential outdoor education trip to an outdoor education centre, hill walks, self defence, golf, dance, swimming, horse riding, bowling, tag rugby and First Aid. The use of external coaches in providing some of the activities in TY is noted and commended. Fundraising for the purchase of a cardiac defibrillator has also been undertaken, led by a group of TY students and this is also highly commended.


The school’s Health Week is a significant event in the school calendar, spearheaded by the physical education department, involving the whole school in activities designed to promote interest and awareness of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle. Activities which are organised include a soccer blitz, dance class, health quiz, karate workshop, Tai Chi, yoga, students versus teachers matches, gymnastics display, “Slí na Sláinte” walk and visits to external facilities to use fitness suites and a climbing wall. The diverse range of activities provided, together with the overall emphasis on enjoying participation for its own sake, is highly commended and can be very motivational for students. The physical education department is applauded for involvement in the initiative as it has the capacity to positively influence the lifestyle choices of students for many years to come. The collaborative manner in which Health Week activities are planned, involving the physical education, home economics, science, English and art departments is similarly commended. Other, equally commendable cross-curricular collaborations involve the physical education department in choreographing the dance elements of the school musical.


Long-term development priorities have been identified for Physical Education in the school, indicating an awareness of the need to proactively plan for the subject so that it may continue to meet the evolving needs of students. Among the items identified are the need to address the timetabling and staffing issues mentioned earlier, the need to respond to cultural diversity and the need to provide aquatics for students other than those in TY. The potential use of an annex to the school’s physical education hall as a fitness suite is also mentioned and the school is encouraged to investigate the feasibility of developing this facility as it has the potential to provide a worthwhile outlet for physical activity for those students who are not interested in the more traditional physical activities.



Teaching and learning


The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was excellent. A good range of interesting learning opportunities was provided and students’ engagement levels were high.


A feature of all lessons, especially those of single-period duration, was a very good use of available time. An excellent range of class materials was prepared in advance of many lessons and these were set up before students arrived to the physical education hall. Handouts, charts, laminated sheets and suitable music were used as appropriate to assist learning. The content of the lesson was regularly outlined for students while they were performing stretching as part of a warm-up and recapping at the end of the lesson often took place while cool-down activities were being performed, thus helping to save time. Lessons were very well structured and progressed in a logical manner, although the lack of available time militated against in-depth engagement with the topic in some lessons. Thus, students would have benefited from additional time during some lessons to analyse and reflect on learning that had taken place. This was not always possible in lessons of single-period duration as the teacher, quite rightly, placed a premium on maintaining high student activity levels thereby leaving comparatively little time for whole-class analysis, discussion or evaluation of learning.


In a lesson being jointly taken by the school’s physical education teacher and an external expert in the area of First Aid, students were attentive and co-operative and the excellent quality of demonstrations was a significant aid to students’ understanding. Students attended very well to instruction on the type of emergency bandaging most appropriate to specific injuries, how to deal with a subject who has a skull injury and the different types of fractures and their treatment. Reference was made to notes and handouts that had been given in previous lessons, and charts and other practical First Aid materials such as bandages, slings and wound dressings were expertly used to assist students’ understanding. From time to time, the physical education teacher skilfully interjected items of information that were relevant to learning that had taken place in previous physical education lessons. This worked very well and helped to provide a context for much of the excellent First Aid information that was delivered.


An excellent use of both directed and general questioning was observed in all lessons. The teacher routinely used questioning to recap on previous learning at the beginning of lessons and this helped to create a natural link between lessons. In some lessons the teacher also outlined the objectives of the lesson and this good practice is commended as it can be very effective in motivating students and in helping them to evaluate their own learning. It is recommended that this strategy be extended to all lessons. Stretching exercises were well performed and in accordance with teacher instructions and questioning from the teacher revealed an excellent level of knowledge as to the various muscle groups being stretched. Similarly, questioning during the remainder of lessons sought to elicit key information and understanding from students and challenged them to apply learning from the current lesson and previous lessons. This practice is highly commended as it can be very effective in consolidating learning.


Basic household materials were used to very good effect in the performance of circuit-training exercises. Students were asked to bring in materials such as tins of peas, beans or other foodstuffs and these were used as rudimentary weights where muscular endurance activities were being performed. This had the effect of reinforcing the point which the teacher regularly made throughout the circuit-training activity – that it is not necessary to join an expensive fitness club or leisure centre to participate in many health-related, fitness activities and that many useful exercises can be performed at home and with very limited equipment. This key message was expertly delivered and has the potential to influence the thinking of students with regard to when and how they can participate in worthwhile exercise activities.


A very positive atmosphere, highly conducive to learning, was in evidence in all lessons and students and teachers interacted with each other in an easy, respectful manner. The teacher gave individual attention to students as required and generously praised students for their efforts. Such praise was well merited as students’ effort levels and application to tasks set was of a very high standard. Students are achieving to a good level in Physical Education and could be considered as achieving to an excellent level when the limitations imposed by time shortages are taken into account.










The quality of assessment and procedures in place for the reporting of learning in Physical Education are good. Records of attendance and participation in physical education lessons are maintained for all lessons and informal assessment takes place through observation in all physical education lessons. Worksheets, covering a variety of topics, are used in many physical education lessons and the physical education department uses these and the student feedback element in assessment sheets, to evaluate students’ responses to various activities as a guide to future planning. The TY evaluation sheets, results of Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) tasks and responses to key assignments are used in a similar manner. These are considered sound practices and are highly commended as an indicator of a subject department that tries to remain student-centred in everything it does.


The physical education teacher attends all parent-teacher meetings and Physical Education features on written reports to parents where the software package used allows the teacher to provide a formative comment on the progress of each student. This is considered appropriate to the nature of the subject.


As a future development of the range of assessment strategies being used in the school, it is recommended that the physical education department work towards identifying descriptors of performance levels that can be used to formally assess students’ learning in practical activities. A practical assessment event could take place at least once per year for each class and could provide valuable information to students and their parents as to their learning and achievement in Physical Education. It is, again, commendable that a need to develop the modes of assessment in use has been identified as an area for development in the subject plan.



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.






School Response to the Report

Submitted by the Board of Management



Inspection Report School Response Form



            Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report


The Board welcomes the positive report and the recognition given to the excellent work being done in the Physical Education department.  However, the Board has major concerns about the serious implications of curriculum overload in Junior Cycle whereby it is impossible to offer a taster curriculum including two hours Physical Education as recommended in The Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004 / 2005.

Yet, previous inspections have commended the Board for offering a taster curriculum in first year. The Board is aware of the shortage in the time allocation for Physical Education. In order to offset this, a large part of the school budget is set aside each year to subsidise extra curricular and co curricular games and sporting activities. Coaching of football, camogie and basketball is provided in the evenings outside of the official 28hours teaching time. Obviously this is not reflected in the school timetable.