An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Castlecomer Community School

Castlecomer, County Kilkenny

Roll number: 91360T


Date of inspection: 06 February 2009





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations






Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Castlecomer Community School. 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.  The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.


Subject provision and whole school support


Castlecomer Community School is a co-educational school with a current enrolment of 627 students. The school provides a full range of educational programmes to cater for the needs of its second-level student cohort, including the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year (TY) programme, the established Leaving Certificate, the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme and the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).


Junior cycle students are timetabled for one double period of Physical Education per week, which is adequate to implement the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus and is in line with circular M15/05. In addition to their weekly double-period Physical Education lesson, TY students are also timetabled for a treble period of activities, which is offered on a modular basis. This additional allocation is highly commended as the planned modules serve to enhance students’ personal development and their knowledge, skills and abilities to engage in physical activity, exercise and sport. The TY timetable arrangements also ensure that activities can be studied in greater detail and can take place both on the school campus or in the local community.


LCA year one and year two students are provided with two single periods per week to study the Leisure and Recreation course. Whilst the time allocation is adequate to cover the course, the arrangement of single periods should be reviewed, given the practical nature and specific demands of this course. Single period lessons are insufficient to allow adequate time for changing, warm-up activities and meaningful and in-depth study of the focused topics. It is preferable that the time allocation for LCA be organised to provide a minimum of one double period for each year group. When providing double period lessons in Physical Education, it is also preferable that they are not split across break times as this can disrupt the continuity of the lesson and students’ learning experiences.


Access to Physical Education for students following the established Leaving Certificate should also be reviewed. Presently, fifth-year students are provided with one double period of Physical Education for half of the school year and spend the other half of the year in timetabled study. This situation is less than adequate and the school is reminded of its obligation to ensure that all students are in receipt of a minimum of twenty-eight hours tuition per week in curricular subjects, as per circular letter M29/95. It is also regrettable that sixth-year students do not receive any Physical Education. It is acknowledged that many senior cycle students are involved to some degree in the school’s extra-curricular sports programme and that this participation may go some way towards meeting their physical activity needs. However, all students should be afforded the opportunity, through the formal curriculum, to develop a full and complete understanding of their physical functionality and the factors that underpin engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport. Therefore, it is recommended that the school review its current provision for Physical Education and work towards providing the subject for all students in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science (DES), as outlined in the Rules & Programmes for Secondary Schools.


The physical education department consists of two teachers who are graduates of the subject. There is a good commitment to continuing professional development (CPD). Attendance at DES organised in-service is actively encouraged and fully supported by school management. Partial funding is provided by the board of management to support teachers’ involvement in additional courses that promotes their professional learning. Affiliation to the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI) is also paid for by the board. A high level of attendance at relevant courses and conferences organised by the National Governing Bodies (NGB) of various sports and by the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI) was indicated in subject documentation, which is evidence of teachers’ commitment to their CPD. The supports provided by the school and the level of engagement by the Physical Education teachers in the variety of relevant courses are highly commended.  


The school has a good range of resources and facilities to support a comprehensive physical education programme. These consist of a small sports hall, a large outdoor hard court, two pitches and an all-weather running track. The outdoor hard court area has been identified as requiring attention. Remedial work should be undertaken as soon as practical to preserve the existing surface and to repair the surrounding fencing to ensure that these courts remain a viable and safe physical activity facility. Management has engaged in a collaborative process with a large number of local sports clubs to improve the quality of the school’s sports facilities, including the hard court, the running track, a drainage scheme for the pitches and an ambitious plan to extend the sports hall. This is an innovative initiative that aspires to provide appropriately managed, high quality sports facilities to support a range of physical activity opportunities for students and the many sports groups in the local community. Links have been established by the school with local physical activity providers including sports clubs to share their facilities. The physical education department also use the extensive grounds of the local demesne to support the adventure activities strand of the syllabus. The exposure of students to the sporting, leisure and recreational facilities and physical activity opportunities in their locality is very good practice as it promotes and develops positive lifestyle behaviours.


The storeroom for Physical Education is equipped with sufficient equipment to support the planned physical activity modules. Additional or replacement items of equipment or resources are purchased on a needs basis through a requisition system. There is good access to a range of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment such as digital video cameras, data-projector, DVD and video players.


A review of the school’s annual newsletter “Castlecomer Calling” indicates the prominence with which sport is held by the school community and the scale of its many significant achievements. There are a variety of extra-curricular sports provided that includes athletics, badminton, basketball, camógie, Gaelic football, handball and hurling. In addition, the school facilitates students to participate in equestrian events. The school has developed a notable reputation for the standard of its hurling teams who are consistently high performers and regularly contend for provincial and national titles in their respective age groups. In addition, many individuals and teams across the range of other sports provided have brought notable success to the school in their respective disciplines. It is highly commendable that a large number of teachers support the organisation and coaching of the extra-curricular sports. The encouragement and support that students receive from these teachers very often lays the foundation for lifelong involvement in sport and a physically active lifestyle. The links established with the various local clubs and coaches ensure that students are also afforded the opportunities to further develop their sporting interests. The standards of performance achieved by students are a credit to the school, their teachers and their clubs.


Planning and preparation


There has been good engagement with the subject department planning process by the physical education department in this school. A number of effective supports are in place to facilitate subject department planning. Formal planning meetings occur at least once per term in addition to frequent informal meetings. A member of the physical education department acts as the subject co-ordinator and this role is rotated on an agreed basis, in keeping with good practice. Proceedings of all formal planning meetings are recorded and these provided documented evidence of the progress made in developing the various physical education programmes for students in each of the curricular programmes provided by the school.


Planning activities have taken place in line with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and a physical education plan has been developed in line with the planning framework promoted by the SDPI. Whilst significant personnel changes have occurred in the physical education department over the last few years, much work has been completed to consolidate the planning process and to document all aspects related to the organisation and delivery of the physical education programme. The physical education department has established an electronic folder on the school’s computer network to further support the collaborative approach to subject planning. This exemplary practice ensures that planning documents, reference and resource materials can be further developed, accessed and shared at all times.  


All elements of good planning are present in the subject plan. These include the overarching philosophy of the subject, the aims and objectives, the inclusion of students of all academic and physical abilities, the identification of possible cross-curricular links in addition to a list of the range of possible teaching and learning and assessment strategies. To build on this good work, it is recommended that subject planning also include long-term objectives such as improving the timetable provision and access to the subject for all students, planning for the acquisition of resources and equipment and planning to include some elements of student review of their physical education programme. This will serve to improve curricular provision and to support the organisation and delivery of the physical education programme to meet students’ interests and needs.


Detailed planning to support the organisation and delivery of the physical education programmes for junior cycle, TY, LCA and senior cycle Physical Education has been undertaken and the planned activity modules are in line with the requirements of these syllabuses. Schemes of work have also been produced for each of the activity modules and it is commendable that many of these identify the key learning outcomes in addition to the content, resources, teaching and learning and assessment strategies. It is recommended that each of the planned schemes of work be restructured into a short, common and accessible format. This will provide a useful reference document to support individual lesson planning and help to develop consistency in providing for all aspects related to teaching and learning for the specific blocks of learning.


The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the junior cycle Physical Education syllabus. The range of activities offered includes most strands of the syllabus and provides students with a broad and balanced physical education programme. The school is unable to provide aquatics at present due to limitations in gaining access to a swimming pool. This should be kept under review in case access can be gained to a swimming pool at some stage during students’ time in school, to provide instruction in this valuable lifelong and potentially lifesaving activity. TY students participate in a number of activity modules that aim to promote leadership qualities and personal development, which is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the TY programme. Adventure activities are well promoted within the TY programme and students participate in a residential course in an outdoor education centre in addition to completing several outdoor activity tasks in the local demesne. The programme of work for TY students also includes a Spikeball Leaders coaching course run in conjunction with the Volleyball Association of Ireland (VAI). Whilst the range of activities possible for LCA students is limited by the current timetabling arrangements, students follow the prescribed Leisure and Recreation course and complete several key assignments as required.


Dedicated notice boards are provided on the school corridors to promote aspects related to the school’s physical education and extra-curricular sports programmes. These provide a valuable means to disseminate information, promote good practice and to stimulate students’ interest and enthusiasm in physical activity, exercise and sport. Subject department planning should also consider how best to use this facility and to ensure that it is regularly updated. Photographs of students performing within the physical education programme are also displayed on the school corridors. This is good practice as it highlights the diversity of activities undertaken within the physical education programme and the level of competency attained by students in each of the activity strands. The further expansion of this good work is recommended. 


There was evidence that the Physical Education teachers engage in effective individual planning and preparation for their lessons. Plans presented were based on the common programme of work and were in line with the syllabus guidelines. Teachers also maintain a record of work completed, which is good practice.


Teaching and learning


There was a good quality of teaching and learning in the Physical Education lessons observed during this inspection, with students actively involved in a range of well-planned physical activities. Lessons began promptly with the teacher recording attendance and participation and introducing the topic of the lesson. Particular attention was paid to safety issues and it was good to note students’ adherence to injury prevention measures such as the removal of any jewellery prior to engagement in the physical activities. On introducing the topic, teachers shared the content and direction of the lesson with their students. In one case the whiteboard was used to good effect to introduce students to the expected learning outcomes of the lesson. This good practice is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning and this approach helps to establish criteria for success on which students can evaluate their own learning. Questioning was a common feature at the start of lessons to review previous learning and to determine the key performance indicators that students should work towards achieving over the course of their lesson. The effective and efficient approach to the commencement of the lessons observed is commended, as it prepared students for the work of the lesson, its purpose and how to gauge their success.


The practical phases of the lessons commenced with warm-up activities, which were appropriately linked to the topic of the lesson and often involved students rehearsing previously learned skills. There was good use of movement terminology, which was appropriate to students’ age and ability. Aspects of health-related fitness such as physiological response to exercise, anatomical references and components of fitness were integrated throughout the warm-up activities. In many instances, the stretching exercises were led by students under the guidance of the teacher. This is good practice as it empowers students to apply their learning. In many instances, students identified a muscle group and demonstrated an exercise that would increase the range of motion about the joint controlled by that muscle group. Many of the mobility activities provided students with opportunities to improve their body management skills and to develop efficient movement patterns. It is important that teachers continue to stress the need for students to adhere to sound biomechanical principles and strive to develop a good standard of competency in the technical execution of the focused skills.


Tasks set were open-ended and in all cases, clear instructions and explanations were given to support the correct execution of tasks or exercises. The use of task cards and stimulus materials ensured that students had tangible exemplars of responses to the set tasks. These resources were especially useful for the less skilled performers who were able to create sequences of movement based on the exemplar material and thereby experience some element of success. Questioning was used effectively to challenge students to think about their responses to the set tasks. A range of lower-order and higher-order questions was used to include students of all abilities in their lessons. In addition, demonstration was used effectively to highlight the technical aspects of performing a skill or sequence of movement. The structure and pace of the lessons and the incremental nature of the set tasks ensured that students made good progress as their lessons developed.


Peer-review was also used in lessons to promote learning. A common feature in lessons was that one group of students would perform their response to the set task whilst the remainder of the class observed. Whilst this is a useful strategy for demonstration purposes, it is recommended that the class be organised to optimise the number of students performing and the number of students observing and preparing feedback. In this way, all students will be afforded greater opportunities to perform their responses to the set tasks. When using this strategy, it is necessary that students are fully aware of the key performance indicators that should be applied to critically analyse their peers. It is also important that once feedback has been received, students are afforded additional opportunities to apply the critical analysis to improve their performance. In this way, learning will be consolidated for both the giver and receiver of the feedback.


Participation levels in the lessons observed was high. Whilst some efforts were made to include students who were unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons, there is scope for the further development of strategies and resources to engage these students. Such strategies may include videoing, assisting in group work and peer-teaching and also the use of resources such as worksheets, task cards and peer-review worksheets.


Teachers have established a good rapport with their students and, in all cases, classroom management was very effective. Some very effective strategies were observed to command students’ attention, such as calling “hotspot” which involved students silently executing an upright seated posture facing their teacher to await further instructions. Teachers were actively involved with their students throughout the lessons providing feedback to individual and small groups and offering technical advice and assistance when necessary. Such attention was given in a caring and sensitive manner and, in many instances, helped students to produce noticeable improvements in their performance. Students were affirmed regularly for their efforts, engagement and performances.


Lessons concluded with a review of student performances and a recap of the key performance indicators. This is good practice as it helps to consolidate and reinforce learning. Teachers also introduced students to the topics for the next lesson, which helped to identify the progression of their learning.




Teachers maintain good records of students’ attendance and participation in their physical education lessons. Teachers assess students’ learning through observation of their engagement and progress in class activities and through oral questioning to determine their understanding of the focused topics. Worksheets and task cards are also used as part of the assessment process in Physical Education. It is commendable that the physical education department has begun to use self and peer-assessment and rich tasks as strategies to augment the assessment process.


However, there is scope for the further development of the assessment process in Physical Education. This can be achieved through expanding the use of self and peer-assessment strategies, 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. It is also important that teachers develop an efficient system of retaining relevant records of students’ work to ensure that the assessment process is effective. The development of such a system of assessment will help students to work towards producing a portfolio of learning, which can then be used as a basis to inform a comment on their engagement and attainment in Physical Education. A portfolio of learning may contain a student activity journal, photographs and video evidence of engagement and performance in a range of activities, reflection journals or completed projects, in addition to worksheets and task cards completed in class. Students could then select a number of exemplary items that they wish to include as part of their end-of-term or year assessment. This process will help to complement other modes of assessment already in use by the physical education department.  


Communication with parents regarding students’ engagement, progress and attainment in Physical Education is maintained through comments on written reports at Christmas and summer, attendance at parent-teacher meetings and the use of the student journal.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         The school has a good range of facilities and equipment to support a comprehensive physical education programme.

·         Management is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development and the Physical Education teachers have been proactive in their own professional learning.

·         Systems are in place to support the physical education department in the planning and organisation of the programme.

·         There has been good engagement with the subject department planning process and programmes of work have been developed for each year group.  

·         The school is implementing the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus.

·         There was a good quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education observed. Students’ learning was developed in a respectful and positive environment.

·         Lessons were purposeful and well structured with open-ended tasks that ensured that students of all abilities were appropriately challenged.

·         Physical Education is included on all reports sent to parents.

·         A good range of extra-curricular sports is organised and delivered by a large number of teachers. Sport is highly valued by the school and participation in the various

      activities is actively encouraged and students’ achievements are well publicised.


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

·         It is recommended that management review the current time provision for Physical Education to ensure that all students have access to the subject in accordance with the

      recommendations of the DES.

·         It is preferable that double period lessons are not split across break times.

·         The timetable arrangements for LCA should be reviewed to provide a minimum of one double period per week.

·         It is recommended that subject planning for Physical Education include long-term objectives to improve curricular provision and to support the organisation and delivery of the programme.

·         It is recommended that each of the planned schemes of work be restructured into a short, common and accessible format.

·         Some student review of the content, organisation and delivery of the physical education programme should be incorporated into the subject department planning process.

·         Additional strategies and resources should be developed to include students who may be unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons.

·         The further development of the assessment process in Physical Education is recommended.


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





 Published November 2009