An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Hacketstown, County Carlow
Roll number: 70410O
REPORT ON THE QUALITY OF LEARNING AND TEACHING IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown. 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 two days, during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and the teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and the teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and the 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.
Coláiste Eoin is a co-educational secondary school, which is run under the auspices of Co. Carlow Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) and has a current enrolment of 207 students. Physical Education is provided on the timetable for first year, Transition Year (TY) and fifth-year students. Second, third and sixth-year students are not timetabled for Physical Education. First-year students receive one double period of Physical Education per week. TY students are provided with two periods of Physical Education per week and an additional two periods for Dance and Drama. Fifth-year students are provided with one period of the subject per week, whilst sixth-year students are not timetabled for Physical Education. Third-year students may opt to participate in a Physical Education lesson during their lunchtime once per week, however their participation is voluntary and they can decide whether or not to participate from week to week. This cannot be viewed as curricular provision for Physical Education.
Whilst acknowledging the limitations imposed by staffing requirements and curricular restrictions, the current level of provision for Physical Education is unsatisfactory. It is more regrettable given the high quality facilities for the subject at the school’s disposal, which are presently under-utilised during the school week. Physical Education aims to promote the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours that positively influence students’ wellbeing. A quality Physical Education programme strives to provide students with an opportunity to study all aspects related to human movement and to learn, through practical experience, about the range of physical, health-related, social and psychological benefits that may accrue as a result of a physically active lifestyle. It is recommended that all students be provided with timetabled lessons in Physical Education in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science (DES) as specified in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. The school must also address the current shortfall in the minimum number of instruction hours provided during the school week, as per circular letter M29/95.
At present, three teachers are timetabled to teach Physical Education, one of whom holds recognised qualifications in the subject. It is commendable that the school has recently sourced the services of a qualified Physical Education teacher, who is available to the school one day per week, and who teaches the majority of the Physical Education lessons. It is acknowledged that the non-specialist teachers currently deployed to teach the remaining periods have experience in coaching, and are to be commended for their commitment to the provision of physical activity for their students. However, due to limitations in the depth of these teachers’ expertise, what is actually taking place is a programme of well-organised and supervised activity rather than Physical Education per se. Additionally, there may be a health and safety risk associated with deploying non-Physical Education teachers to take timetabled lessons in the subject. Therefore, it is recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications to teach Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject. The school should plan for the greater deployment of a qualified Physical Education teacher into their projected staffing needs. This will ensure quality and consistency in students’ learning experiences and also mitigate any potential health and safety risks.
The school has a range of high-quality facilities to support the teaching of Physical Education and to accommodate a range of extra-curricular sports. These include a recently constructed sports hall, two playing pitches and a large hard court area. These facilities were well presented and maintained. The subject is well resourced, with sufficient equipment to support most strands of the syllabus. It is recommended that some shelving be installed in the storeroom to assist with the organisation of and ease of access to equipment.
It is commendable that broadband access is planned for the sports hall and the physical education office. The availability of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment such as a laptop, data projector, and digital cameras, provides access to a range of valuable tools to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. The provision of a whiteboard in the sports hall is recommended as this is another useful resource to aid the teaching and learning process.
Sport is viewed as an integral part of school life in Coláiste Eoin and responsibility for the co-ordination of extra-curricular activities forms part of a post of responsibility. There is a good range of activities provided with a significant number of teachers and students involved. The school prepares teams to compete in inter-schools competitions in a number of sports including athletics, camógie, cross-country running, Gaelic football, hurling and soccer. A number of additional sports are also provided by the school including basketball, table-tennis and tennis. In-school leagues in many of these sports are often organised and take place during lunchtimes.
The role of extra-curricular physical activity and how it links with the aims of the physical education programme are identified in a comprehensive policy document. It is highly commended that the school aims to encourage and promote the involvement of as many students as possible in the range of activities provided. The school’s regular newsletter, which is sent to parents, is used effectively to affirm the involvement and successes of students representing the school in the various sports. The school has had a number of notable successes in many of the sports provided and a number of students have achieved international honours in some of these sports. The links established with the local sports clubs, the local sports partnership and the community games also ensures that the school plays a central role as one of the main physical activity providers in the community. The voluntary commitment of a significant number of teachers in the school to the organisation and coaching of the extra-curricular activities is highly commended. Such provision has the potential to have a very positive impact on the attitudes and behaviours of students towards lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity.
A number of formal meetings are provided throughout the year for teachers to collaborate and develop common subject plans. Historically, planning for Physical Education was undertaken as part of the planning process for extra-curricular activities. Now that the subject has been established on the timetable for some year groups and an appropriately qualified teacher is available, the school is moving towards developing formal planning documents for the subject. This is a welcome development. It is important that the established links between the Physical Education programme and the extra-curricular activities are still maintained. Participation in extra-curricular activities ensures that students have regular opportunities to express their learning in Physical Education through the application of knowledge and also to further develop their physical skills and competencies. In this way, students can identify their interests and talents as a result of the school structures for Physical Education and school sport, which in turn provides a pathway to their involvement in competitive sport, or recreational activities that promote their physical well-being.
A Physical Education policy document has been developed that follows the planning template promoted by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and identifies all aspects relevant to the provision, organisation and delivery of the subject in the school. Detailed and well written schemes of work have been produced to support each activity module, covering all strands of the syllabus. These are excellently structured to identify the key learning outcomes and knowledge and skills that students will acquire in an incremental manner. Each scheme also identifies the progression in content and learning experiences and identifies strategies to support teaching and learning. To build on this good practice it is suggested that an overarching framework be developed to highlight the placement of each activity strand of the syllabus for each year group. Further information regarding this macro-planning may be obtained on www.jcpe.ie.
To assist with the development of the physical education programme in the school, it is recommended that contacts be established with other teachers of Physical Education through participation in the local Teacher Professional Network (TPN), which is facilitated by the Physical Education Association of Ireland (www.peai.ie). This will provide professional support and guidance and a mechanism to share professional practice and resources. In addition, contact with other Physical Education professionals can be maintained through the website and discussion forum of the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS; www.jcpe.ie) and the Physical Education, Physical Activity and Youth Sport (PEPAYS; www.ul.ie/pepays) organisation.
It is commendable that TY students participate in a range of valuable and diverse activities that promote their personal development, leadership and social skills. Whilst many of the modules are organised outside of students’ regular physical education programme, the knowledge and skills developed are directly related to exercise, sport and physical wellbeing. The provision of certification for some of these modules including GAA foundation level coaching, first-aid and taekwondo provides a tangible reward for students’ engagement and learning.
It is commendable that the teachers involved in delivering the physical education programme communicate regularly. This has resulted in a co-ordinated approach to delivering a common programme. It is also commendable that some activities that may present an increased health and safety risk, such as gymnastics, are only taught by the qualified teacher.
In addition to the development of subject planning documents, some valuable resource materials have been developed to support teaching and learning. Other resources are also available, including texts, DVDs, information sheets and worksheets. Some posters and charts are displayed in the foyer of the sports hall and good use is made of the notice boards to display information relevant to Physical Education, sport and physical activity. The creation of a bright and engaging environment is commended.
An effective system has been developed to ensure that the sports hall, equipment and resources are prepared prior to the start of lessons and that attendance is recorded efficiently, which helped to optimise the time available for learning. This was especially beneficial in lessons that were of a single period duration. Students were familiar with this system and adhered to all the rules governing their safe participation in lessons, such as removing jewellery, ensuring that shoe laces were tied and listening to teachers’ instructions. The topics covered in the lessons visited were circuit training with an emphasis on health-related fitness.
Teachers began lessons by recapping on students’ previous learning through a series of directed questions prior to introducing the content of the current lesson. This is good practice as it helps to consolidate students’ previous learning and sets the context for the current lesson. It is recommended that the practice of introducing the content of the lesson be expanded to include the desired learning outcomes that students are expected to achieve at the end of the lesson. A whiteboard facility would be useful in this regard as these outcomes and specific tasks could be displayed for the duration of the lesson, which would provide a reference for students regarding the purpose of their engagement and learning.
Lessons progressed with a series of demonstrations of each of the circuit training exercises. The quality of the demonstrations was good and key technical points were presented clearly and precisely. However, the method of introduction to these exercises should be revisited to avoid information overload for students and to ensure an appropriate balance between demonstration and time for practice. For example, all students could learn the technique involved in the more technically challenging exercises, such as squatting, lunges, press-ups and abdominal crunches prior to performing these exercises as part of the circuit session. This could be included as part of the skill rehearsal phase of the warm-up and involve a mixture of whole-class teaching and peer-review, to encourage students’ ability to critically analyse performance. In this way, students will learn to competently perform each exercise with the correct biomechanics to safely work the targeted muscle groups.
Students participated in appropriately paced warm-up activities. These included a series of general mobility activities and exercises to increase joint range of motion. Opportunities were used, through effective questioning, to highlight the importance of warm-up activities prior to engaging in vigorous physical activity. In some cases, students took responsibility for leading parts of the warm-up, which is commendable practice as it provides valuable opportunities for students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate their competency.
There was a good level of student application and engagement throughout their lessons. Carefully selected music provided an appropriate high tempo atmosphere that enhanced students’ enjoyment of the circuit training phase of their lessons. The exercises selected ensured that there was an appropriate balance to ensure symmetrical balance between agonist and their antagonist muscle groups. However, the design of the exercise circuit should be revisited to avoid successive overloading of the same muscle groups. A simple restructuring of the sequence of the exercises would suffice to ensure that the prime movers involved in each exercise are afforded sufficient recovery periods. This will avoid the early onset of fatigue and positively enhance students’ experience of this form of training to improve aspects of their health-related physical fitness.
A positive atmosphere was evident in all lessons and students were regularly encouraged and affirmed for their efforts. Teachers were actively engaged with their students throughout the lessons, providing encouragement and some technical assistance when required. There was good evidence of a caring approach to students and all interactions indicated that a very respectful rapport exists between students and their teachers. Students who were unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons were appropriately included in a variety of peer-review activities. This is good pedagogical practice as it includes these students in the physical education process through the development of their movement analysis skills. It is recommended that the range of additional strategies and resources employed to include students who are unable to participate in the physical activities be included in the subject plan as a reference.
Lessons concluded with gentle cool-down activities, which is good practice to aid the venous return and recovery after high-intensity activity. The practice of ensuring that students complete a worksheet related to their participation in the class activities is commended as it provides them with a valuable record of their engagement and learning.
Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance and participation for each class group in Physical Education. Comments regarding students’ progress and attainment in Physical Education are included in reports to parents four times per year. The frequency of these reports is highly commended. Communication with parents also occurs at the annual parent-teacher meetings, which are held for each year group once per year.
Questioning and teacher observation are used as a means of continuous assessment in Physical Education. Verbal feedback is often provided to students to promote improvement in skill development, to affirm their efforts and to encourage their social development throughout interaction with class mates in a variety of settings. Self assessment has been introduced as part of an assessment for learning strategy with all class groups, which is in keeping with good practice. There was good evidence that issues related to the retention and storage of the materials produced by students has been carefully considered. An effective system has been introduced to retain a copy of students’ self-analysis and reflection worksheets and a file is stored for each class group in the physical education office.
The further expansion of the assessment process in Physical Education is recommended. This may include the completion of rich tasks at the end of each module of learning and the inclusion of a practical performance component at least once a year. Much good work in the area of assessing practical performance has already been completed. Some of the planned schemes of work contain a list of descriptors that allow the level of student competency in that activity to be determined. The deployment and sharing of these descriptor levels with students would help in the successful evaluation of their practical performance in a chosen activity. In addition, the continued advancement of the system of retaining records of students’ work will assist towards the development of a student portfolio of learning. The expansion of the range of materials contained in the portfolio may include photographs or video evidence of performance in a selection of physical activities, completed projects and a physical activity logbook or journal. All of these items will provide evidence of engagement and learning in Physical Education and the level of physical competency achieved by students.
There was a good work ethic displayed by students observed during the inspection. Students were confident in their responses to questions and were able to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding when questioned about their experiences to date in Physical Education.
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:
· It is recommended that all students be provided with timetabled lessons in Physical Education in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science.
· The school must ensure that it is in compliance with the time in school directive, as per circular letter M29/95.
· It is recommended that only teachers who possess recognised qualifications in Physical Education be timetabled to teach the subject.
· The provision of a whiteboard in the sports hall is recommended and shelving should be installed in the storeroom to assist with the organisation and storage of equipment.
· It is recommended that a reference framework highlighting the placement of the various activity modules for each year group be developed and included in the subject planning documentation.
· The range of strategies and resources used to include students who are unable to participate in the physical activities should be included in the subject plan.
· Consideration should be given to ensuring that there is an appropriate balance between demonstration and time for practice when introducing exercises that require a high
level of technical competency.
· The design of an exercise circuit should ensure that the muscle groups involved in each exercise are afforded sufficient recovery periods.
· It is recommended that the assessment process in Physical Education be further developed.
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 2010