An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Mount Mercy College

Model Farm Road, Cork

Roll number: 62661U


Date of inspection: 23 September 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 Mount Mercy College, Cork. 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 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 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.



Subject provision and whole school support


Subject provision for Physical Education is very good in first year in Mount Mercy College, with students having a double period in the subject. An additional period of hockey is also timetabled each week for first-year students. Second-year students also have a double period of Physical Education per week. In third year, however, Physical Education provision drops to a single period, of forty minutes duration, per week. This is considered inadequate for the delivery of the subject as, having allowed time for students to change at the start and end of the lesson, very little time remains for actual physical activity in a lesson of forty minutes. It is recommended that the school revisit this timetabling arrangement at the earliest possible opportunity. The fact that extracurricular activity, and time in lieu for such activity, also forms part of the timetable of one of the school’s physical education teachers creates a further imperative to revisit timetabling arrangements for the subject as Department of Education and Science (DES) regulations do not allow extracurricular activities to form part of a teacher’s timetable. The timetabled allocation in Transition Year (TY) is good, with a double period of Physical Education and an additional double period of physical activity modules, such as dance, being provided. In fifth year and sixth year, students have the option of taking a double period of Physical Education for each year. Although this arrangement is working well and means that students who attend physical education lessons are highly motivated and interested, it is nonetheless recommended that all students should be guaranteed access to a minimum of two hours of Physical Education per week as recommended in the DES Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. Despite the shortcomings outlined in the current timetabling arrangements, however, it must be acknowledged that students in all years at least have access to some formal Physical Education, whether as a core or an optional subject. Management is commended for the willingness communicated during the inspection to examine timetabling issues in Physical Education with a view to increasing provision.


A good range of extracurricular physical activity is provided in the school with hockey, basketball, camógie, football, tennis, table tennis, athletics, sailing and horse riding the main areas of involvement. These activities cater for the needs and interests of a wide range of students and activities take place both after school and at lunchtime in order to facilitate the involvement of as many students as possible. Management greatly appreciates the commitment of teachers to providing these activities and acknowledges the positive impact which participation in these activities can have on students’ attitudes to health and fitness.


The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are good and include a full-sized astro-turf pitch, a general purpose hall and a tennis court area. The physical education department is well resourced with all materials available for the delivery of a full physical education programme and these resources were well utilised in the lessons observed as part of the inspection. It is commendable that funding for the purchase of physical education equipment, which is provided annually by management, is augmented by school-based fund raising activities such as cake sales, charity walks, staff/student games and grants from the school’s parents’ association. Management is aware that shortcomings in relation to available storage space and the use of the hall for school activities such as parent-teacher meetings, assemblies and other events cause considerable inconvenience to the physical education department and has put plans in place for the building of a dedicated physical education hall on the school grounds. The school is commended for this initiative as the provision of such a facility can be expected to have a significant positive impact on the physical education experience of all students. The school is encouraged to continue to give this project the highest priority.


There are two, fully qualified teachers of Physical Education employed in the school who bring a range of personal and professional skills and interests to the teaching of the subject. It is commendable that the school avails of additional expertise provided by external instructors to deliver modules such as dance and First Aid to TY students. The fact that the school is not involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus has meant that the physical education teachers have not, as yet, been able to avail of the comprehensive programme of continuing professional development which is provided as part of this syllabus. Although it is acknowledged that the school is following much of the JCPE syllabus in an informal manner, formal involvement in the syllabus is recommended as this will allow the teachers, and students, to benefit from the range of concomitant supports which are provided by the support service. Further information can be found on the website of the JCPE website at



Planning and preparation


One of the school’s physical education teachers is acting as subject co-ordinator and the good practice whereby this role is rotated among both physical education teachers is commended. The teachers have the opportunity to formally meet as a subject department approximately three times per year and much useful planning also takes place through many informal meetings. A subject plan is in place for Physical Education which contains plenty of resource material useful for the delivery of the subject. The plan has clearly defined aims for Physical Education in the school focused on creating an appreciation in students of the benefits and enjoyment of physical activity. Clearly defined rules and procedures for students’ participation in physical education lessons have been outlined and it is very good practice that these are sent to parents and students are required to sign a copy of these rules.


Some excellent resource material has been collated for use by students who are not able to participate in physical education lessons, including self-assessment sheets and worksheets which require students to focus and comment on the individual lesson which they are observing. This approach is commended as it makes it clear to students that they are part of the learning environment and are expected to learn, even during lessons in which they cannot physically take part.


As has already been mentioned, the school is informally following much of the material of the JCPE syllabus and very good schemes of work have been produced for each of the topics which are covered. The range of activities covered contains sufficient breadth and balance to cater for the needs and interests of all students and the school is commended for its willingness to take the views of students into account in the review and evaluation of the physical education programme. There is scope for the inclusion of more adventure activities into the programme and the school is also encouraged to try to incorporate some aquatics into the programme of activities at junior cycle, if this can be facilitated.


The generous timetabled allocation to Physical Education and to physical activity in TY has allowed the school to deliver a range of interesting modules of physical activity, all of which are in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the TY programme. Among the activities provided are an orientation day in an outdoor education centre, a residential weekend trip to an outdoor education centre, self-defence, First Aid, dance and health education as well as the opportunity to participate in the Gaisce awards and the school’s annual skiing trip.


Some planning for the use of assessment for learning in the teaching of physical education should be considered, as the use of such methodologies has been found to be highly motivational for many students and can help them to become more independent learners. The practice of asking students to set targets for themselves, and to reflect on whether they achieved these targets as part of the school’s sports day is a very worthwhile step in this direction and the school is commended for its initiative in this regard. Planning for the use of rich tasks is also recommended as this can provide an avenue for meaningful participation for many students, especially those who are less interested in the more traditional approaches.


The physical education department should develop short-term, medium-term and long-term aims for the subject and should document these as part of the physical education plan. In this regard, the good practice of maintaining a record of key requests made to management regarding developments sought by the physical education department is noted and commended. Planning for the further integration of information and communication technology (ICT) in the teaching of physical education is also worthy of consideration as the school has good facilities and equipment in this area including a computer room, video camera, TV/DVD player and a number of data projectors. The use of these facilities in the teaching of Physical Education can be expected to greatly enhance the learning experience of students and can increase student engagement and motivation.



Teaching and learning


The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good, aided by good quality planning and preparation on the part of teachers. Classes began promptly and teachers recorded students’ attendance and participation in the teachers’ journal at the start of every lesson. Class materials had been prepared, relevant information had been written on the whiteboard and grids and circuit training stages had been prepared as appropriate. This had the effect of saving valuable time throughout lessons. Warm-up activities were well performed by students and this phase of the lesson was often used by the teacher to integrate key concepts and skills which would be developed during subsequent phases of the lesson. This worked very well.


Good opportunities were provided for students to become involved in individual, pair and group activities. Sufficient time was provided for students to practice skills which had been learned in previous lessons and drills and practices which were organised exhibited a clear progression in difficulty. This is considered good practice as it allows all students the opportunity to achieve success during the initial phases of skill acquisition and challenges the more able students to perform more difficult tasks in keeping with their abilities. While these drills and practices worked very well, it is considered essential that, during games lessons, students’ progress to performing skills learned in a conditioned or modified game in order to apply and consolidate learning.


Scope exists for the use of rich tasks in senior cycle in particular. The use of such methodologies can be expected to provide students with the skills necessary to become self-directed learners and can increase their capacity to become reflective performers. Thus opportunities could be provided, for example, for students to devise and evaluate their own fitness programmes as part of a module of health related activity, focusing on circuit training. The high levels of co-operation and enthusiasm displayed by senior cycle students in a circuit-training lesson observed indicate that they would be well placed to benefit from the increased autonomy which the use of such methodologies would provide.


All classes were very well structured and took place in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation between teacher and students. Students thoroughly enjoyed participation in all of their physical education lessons and responses to questioning from both the teacher and the inspector displayed a good level of understanding and a very positive attitude to physical activity. The school, and the physical education department in particular, deserve high praise for promoting these attitudes among students.


The quality of technical information and instruction delivered to students was excellent with the correct balance being struck between providing appropriate technical information as required without interrupting the natural flow of the lesson. It is suggested that some information regarding various muscle groups being exercised at particular stages during circuit training or warm-up activities could be provided in the form of laminated cards showing the name and anatomical location of the muscle groups. These cards can be placed at the various stages and students can then refer to them as they are performing exercises, thereby gaining useful physiological and anatomical information without the need for additional input from the teacher.


Questioning was skilfully used to elicit learning from students and helped to keep a clear focus on the learning objectives of the lesson. Students were regularly asked to comment on what they had learned after each practice or drill had been performed and this was very effective in reinforcing lesson objectives. While good recapping on previous learning routinely took place at the start of lessons, the sharing of lesson objectives with students at the start of lessons is also recommended, in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, as an additional strategy aimed at helping to maintain students’ focus and interest. This should serve as a natural counterpoint to the excellent recapping which took place at the end of all lessons.






Records are maintained of students’ attendance and participation in all physical education lessons and these, together with informal assessment through observation and questioning, are used to provide feedback to parents at parent-teacher meetings.


There is a need to bring increased formality to assessment procedures in Physical Education. While the use of rich tasks as a teaching methodology offers some related opportunities regarding assessment, some formal assessment of practical and theoretical learning should also take place. It is therefore recommended that students should undertake an assessment event, either practical or written, ideally the end of each block of learning but certainly no less than once per year in both practical and written format. Such assessments could provide much valuable feedback to teachers as to the success of the physical education programme and may provide the stimulus for any modifications deemed necessary.


Physical Education should also form part of school reports that are sent to parents as it is considered essential that the substantial learning which is taking place in physical education lessons in Mount Mercy is acknowledged and validated. The use of assessment-for-learning methodologies also offers some scope in relation to teachers providing formative comments to students regarding their progress and areas for improvement.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

  • The timetabled provision for Physical Education in first year and in TY is good and students in other years have access to timetabled lessons in Physical Education each week.
  • A good range of extracurricular physical activity is provided in the school and every effort is made to maximise opportunities for students’ involvement.
  • The facilities and resources available for the teaching of Physical Education are good and the school has commendable plans for further developments in this area.
  • A good array of resource materials has been collated as part of the physical education plan.
  • Physical activities which have been planned in TY are in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the TY programme.
  • The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good, aided by good quality planning and preparation on the part of teachers.
  • Good questioning strategies were used to elicit learning and to maintain a focus on the key learning objectives of lessons.
  • All classes were very well structured and took place in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation between teacher and students.
  • Records of students’ attendance and participation in all physical education lessons are maintained.



As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

  • Timetabling arrangements for classes in second, third, fifth and sixth year should be reviewed with a view to providing increased time to Physical Education.
  • Extracurricular activity, or time in lieu for such activity, should not form part of the timetable of any teacher and, where this is the case, the teacher’s timetable should be adjusted accordingly.
  • The school should become involved, at the earliest practicable opportunity, in the formal implementation of the JCPE syllabus.
  • There is scope for further development of planning in Physical Education with regard to the use of assessment for learning, the use of rich tasks and the further integration of ICT into teaching and learning.
  • In games lessons, students should have the opportunity to perform skills learned in a conditioned or modified game in order to apply and consolidate learning.
  • Opportunities, particularly for senior cycle students, to engage in self-directed learning activities should be explored.
  • Increased formality should be brought to assessment and reporting procedures in Physical Education and the subject should form part of written reports sent to parents.


Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and with the principal and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





Published, January 2009