An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Saint Michael’s College

Ailesbury Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

Roll number: 60561G


Date of inspection: 9 April 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. Michael’s College conducted as part of a whole school evaluation. 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 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum for all students in St. Michael’s College. The school has recently introduced Physical Education for all students in senior cycle and has also addressed the structure of the timetable provision for the subject. Previously, only junior cycle and Transition Year (TY) class groups were timetabled for a single period of Physical Education per week. As a result of recent curriculum changes all students now have access to the subject and are afforded sufficient class time to allow for full engagement in the planned physical education programme. This provision consists of a double period of Physical Education for all class groups, with the exception of one TY class which receives two single periods. Although the provision of a double period for Physical Education is common in post-primary schools, the total amount of time allocated to the subject falls short of the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. It is recommended that the school work towards this level of provision. It is commendable that TY students are timetabled for an additional afternoon per week for a variety of activities, many of which involve participation in physical activity pursuits or courses.


The physical education department consists of three teachers, only one of whom holds recognised qualifications to teach the subject. The school has recently employed a qualified physical education teacher to support the further development of the subject in the school and to build upon the good work accomplished to date. Whilst all teachers observed during the inspection were fully committed to providing high-quality and positive experiences for their students, it is recommended that only teachers who hold appropriate qualifications recognised by the Department of Education and Science, be deployed to teach Physical Education. It is acknowledged that the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications have expertise in some areas relevant to Physical Education and may provide quality tuition in these areas. However, a qualified physical education teacher is the person best placed to deliver an in-depth understanding of the concepts and principles underpinning a broad range of physical activities as outlined in the Department of Education and Science syllabuses. In most cases, the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications are timetabled concurrently with the qualified physical education teacher. This arrangement ensures that students may benefit from a broader, educational-based approach to a range of activities than could be provided by the non-qualified physical education teachers alone. It also allows for the qualified physical education teacher to highlight and to off-set any potential health and safety concerns.


Management is fully supportive of continuing professional development (CPD) and the physical education department has engaged in the in-service programme for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus, as well as the recent Action for Life courses. The school is commended for its proactive approach towards the implementation of the revised syllabus.


A range of high quality, well-maintained facilities are available to support the delivery of a comprehensive physical education programme in the school, including a large sports hall, an indoor heated swimming pool, one large and one small playing pitch and a small Astroturf training area. In addition, the school has developed and equipped a gym with a range of cardio-vascular training equipment, resistance machines and an extensive collection of free weights, frames and platforms. A qualified gym instructor is employed by the school to provide technical assistance in classes when the gym is used as part of the physical education programme, and to oversee the training of school athletes during lunch times and after school. This is exemplary provision as it ensures that students are supported in acquiring the correct techniques, structure and implementation of their training programmes and also ensures that the use of the gym facility is optimised. A classroom adjacent to the gym is an excellent resource to support the delivery of the theoretical components of the physical education programme. The school has plans for the redevelopment and expansion of its facilities to include the provision of a new swimming pool and the upgrading of existing pitches. The school’s recognition of the value of Physical Education as part of a comprehensive education and its commitment to a culture of sport and physical activity is highly commended.


Management’s support for the provision of equipment and resources is exemplary. The physical education department is provided with a generous annual budget to cover the cost of replacing items of equipment and for the purchase of additional resources. Larger and more expensive items are provided on a needs basis upon request to management. The storeroom is very well equipped with sufficient equipment to ensure that all students can fully participate in the planned programme.


Sport and physical activity play a large role in the life of St. Michael’s College. The support for a range of extra-curricular sports and physical activities is exemplary. Rugby is the main sport in the college and a large majority of the students are members of teams at a level commensurate with their abilities. Good links have been established with local clubs and with the development officers from the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). An extensive range of other activities are provided including archery, basketball, cross-country running, cycling, Gaelic football, hurling, golf, judo, rowing, sailing, soccer, squash, table-tennis, triathlon, swimming and water polo. The achievement of the school in some of these activities is to the highest provincial and national standard. The physical education department monitors the level of engagement of all students in the extra-curricular activities programme, which is good practice. This information is useful in helping the department identify students who may need advice on how to balance their level of involvement and training or students who may need encouragement and facilitation to become involved in some aspect of the programme. It is commendable that a number of activities are provided at a recreational level as they provide students, who may not be competitively orientated, with ample opportunities to engage in some form of physical activity for its intrinsic value. It is a credit to the characteristic spirit of the school that past students, who have achieved national and international honours, donate one of their representative jerseys to the school. The prominent displays of these and other memorabilia such as photographs, plaques and trophies serve as a reminder to present students of the tradition, standards and pride former students have in their school.


Planning and preparation


There is a good collaborative approach taken by the physical education department to planning and they actively support each other in their work. Formal subject department planning meetings are facilitated by management once per term and these are availed of by the physical education department to plan for the organisation and delivery of the physical education programme. Previously, the most senior member of the physical education department took responsibility for the organisation of the subject. However, the teachers have agreed to rotate the responsibility of the subject co-ordination annually, which is good practice. Previous planning meetings identified a number of significant priorities for the subject in the school, many of which have now been achieved including the placement of Physical Education on the timetable for all students, the provision of double periods and the development of facilities and resources to support the subject. It is recommended that minutes of formal meetings be recorded. This process will ensure that a record is maintained of the topics discussed and decisions made so as to track the development of the subject over time.


The physical education department has fully engaged in the subject planning process. A common plan has been developed using the templates provided by the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). The subject plan documents all of the arrangements, organisation and resources for the subject in the school and includes an outline of the programme for each year group. Some considered reflection and planning has been given to the selection of activities for each block of the syllabus. The plan is quite detailed in outlining a scheme of work for each of the planned activity modules, which covers five of the seven strands of the syllabus. It is recommended that the physical education department plans for the introduction of the remaining strands into their programme at junior cycle. Each scheme of work clearly identifies the content and contains an outline of the progressions in skill and tactical awareness that the students will engage in when studying that module. It is recommended that these schemes be expanded to identify the key learning outcomes and align the content and progressions with the most appropriate teaching and learning strategies and methods of assessment. Information and exemplar materials to support the further development of the planning process are available on


The TY programme is varied and provides opportunities for students to engage in activities that promote personal development and social skills. The planned programme includes a residential trip to an outdoor education centre, a self-defence module, a sailing module, an accredited foundation level coaching course as well as an applied sports science module. It is commendable that there is a strong emphasis on the kinesiological aspects of physical education in the senior cycle programme, which is composed mostly of modules covering components of physical fitness, health-related and skill-related fitness, as well as invasion games. Some very good references to relevant websites have been included in the subject plan to support each of the activity modules. It is recommended that the physical education department plan for the introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) as an additional strategy in the teaching and learning process. There is very good potential in this school for the effective use of a range of digital media and computer-based applications to promote higher-order engagement in the subject.


The physical education department has developed and acquired a range of useful resource materials to support students’ learning. Some very good examples of texts, worksheets and planned assignments were seen in the TY physical education plan to support the applied sports science module covering the principles of training and development. The planned assignments are highly commended as they challenge students to apply their knowledge to solve realistic problems related to lifestyle, fitness and sports performance.


The physical education department organises an annual sports day and avails of a local athletic track to host the programme of events. It is commendable that TY students are involved in the organisation and running of this event. Students’ achievements in sport and physical activities are acknowledged by the school as part of the annual awards ceremony.


A whole-school health and safety audit has taken place recently and the physical education teachers have identified and categorised the level of risks associated with the facilities and activities offered within the physical education programme. This is good practice. A clear system has been developed to record any injuries sustained by students as a result of their participation in the physical activities. Training has also been received by staff in the use of the school’s defibrillators, which is to be commended. It is recommended that a more comprehensive outline of the physical education department’s health and safety procedures be documented in the subject plan.


Teaching and learning


The topics covered in the lessons observed were front-crawl technique and water-polo in aquatics, resistance training and invasion games. A clear system of roll call, preparation and assignment of equipment to students took place at the commencement of all lessons observed. Venues were set up expediently and this preparation was beneficial to the smooth running of all lessons. This effective organisation settled and focused students and optimised the time for engagement in the planned activities. There was a strong commitment by teachers to ensuring a high level of physical activity amongst all students from the outset.  


Lessons commenced with warm-up routines which were directly related to the focused activities, and this good practice helped to ensure that the basic skill patterns were well rehearsed prior to the introduction of more complex or intense tasks. It is highly commendable that most senior students took responsibility for their own warm-up and worked independently to ensure that they were appropriately prepared to engage in their high intensity resistance training class. Whilst this is exemplary practice, it is important that all students are monitored to ensure that they follow the agreed protocol and that assistance be provided if necessary. This will avoid some students taking short-cuts with their warm-up and reinforce best practice, especially given the increased risk of musculoskeletal injury that could potentially occur if not properly prepared for the high intensity activity being undertaken.


In some cases, teachers took time to share the content and direction of each phase of the lessons with their students. Whilst this is good practice, it is recommended that teachers share the intended learning outcomes, as well as the content and sequence of the learning activities, with students at the beginning of the lesson. These learning outcomes can then be revisited at regular intervals to reinforce the purpose of the lesson and to keep students focused on their learning as they progress through the planned tasks.


Tasks were sequenced so that skills were acquired in a progressive and incremental manner and this approach ensured that all students experienced some success and improvement. Good practice was seen when skill development was sequenced through a process of rehearsal and application in the game setting. To build on this practice, consideration should be given to extending the process of rehearsal and application in the game setting, to include more detailed analysis of technical competencies, further skill rehearsal focusing on identified elements for improvement, followed by application in modified or more challenging settings. This approach helps to develop the focused skills in both unopposed and opposed settings, whilst maximising the opportunities for success and developing a more in-depth understanding of their application in the specific game context.


In most cases, there was good use of questioning and this strategy was effective in determining students’ understanding and also in engaging them in movement performance analysis. In some lessons, there was scope to further challenge students to engage cognitively with the key concepts of the activity in order to promote more in-depth learning. Students worked in pairs and small groups and were actively engaged in all tasks set. Students’ engagement in self-directed activity in the gym demonstrated a high level of application and maturity. In one instance, students worked very well in pairs to alternate the role of “spotter”, which was particularly well executed to provide technical feedback to the performer. As a result, technical proficiency in the execution of the exercises was of a very high standard. Peer-review was also used effectively in other lessons observed and the further use of this strategy is recommended as it develops higher-order analytical and critical thinking skills.


The organisation of class activities was well managed and teachers made good use of all the available space and resources. Lessons progressed at a pace commensurate with the abilities of the students and it is commendable that students of all abilities were fully included in all class activities. Furthermore, some useful strategies have been developed for the inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the physical activities, such as the completion of observational-based worksheets developed by the physical education department. Additional strategies should be developed to build on this good practice.


In all lessons observed, there was a good rapport established between students and their teachers. This promoted a positive and affirming atmosphere, good behaviour and encouraged high levels of student engagement. Students demonstrated a good work ethic in the lessons observed and were diligent in their application to the set tasks. Many students displayed exceptionally high levels of skill and performance. Students were knowledgeable in the subject matter and responded confidently to questions posed by the inspector.




Teachers maintain records of attendance and participation for all physical education classes in keeping with good practice. Informal assessment is conducted through observation and regular questioning to determine students’ understanding. Additionally, peer and self-assessment occurs during some lessons. However, it is recommended that the physical education department develop a common assessment system to retain records of students’ progress and achievement for each block of learning. Involvement in the in-service programme for the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus has helped to inform the physical education department of new and innovative approaches to assessment. The implementation of an increased range of assessment methodologies is recommended as this will contribute to a well-informed portfolio of student achievement in the subject.


Formal reporting to parents takes place once per term and comments are included to inform parents of their son’s progress in Physical Education. The teachers of Physical Education are also available to meet with parents at parent-teacher meetings and are also available to meet with parents upon request. The student journal is also used as a means of communicating with parents as the need arises.


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.





Published October 2008