An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Coláiste Mhuire

Johnstown, County Kilkenny

Roll number: 70600T


Date of inspection: 2 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 Coláiste Mhuire 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 three 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.


Subject provision and whole school support

Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum for all students, with the exception of those who follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). Junior cycle, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and sixth-year class groups are timetabled for one period of Physical Education per week. Transition Year (TY) class groups receive two single periods per week and fifth-year class groups receive one double period per week. Whilst it is commendable that the school recognises the value of Physical Education as an integral part of students’ education, the time allocation and the timetable arrangements for the subject should be reviewed. Firstly, the time allocation is significantly below the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science, Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools and also below the minimum requirements for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus as per circular M15/05. Secondly, the provision of single-period lessons imposes considerable restrictions for any significant level of physical activity and in-depth study of the variety of topics. Finally, it is regrettable that those students following the LCVP do not have any timetabled access to Physical Education. Whilst it is acknowledged that some of these students may be involved in the school’s extra-curricular sports programme, this cannot be regarded as an appropriate substitute for quality Physical Education. A broad and balanced Physical Education programme that focuses on the principles and benefits underpinning engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport provides a valuable contribution to the holistic education of students. It is recommended that management review the current provision for the subject to ensure that all students have access to quality Physical Education in accordance with the Department of Education and Science guidelines.

The physical education department consists of two teachers who are graduates of the subject. Management is fully supportive of the continuing professional development of teachers and it is commendable that the physical education department has participated in the in-service programme for the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus and the Action for Life programme, as well as specific in-service for the implementation of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) and the LCA Leisure and Recreation programme. The physical education department also maintains active links with relevant bodies promoting professional development including the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI), Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) and the Physical Education, Physical Activity and Youth Sport (PE PAYS) organisation. These links are beneficial to ensuring that teachers are regularly updated with the latest pedagogical strategies and resources to support their work and their involvement with these organisations is highly commended.


The school possesses a small sports hall, which is used to deliver the indoor activity strands of the physical education programme. Whilst this facility is very well maintained, the lack of a sizeable indoor hall imposes a number of restrictions on the range of activities that may be fully experienced by students. To address some of these restrictions, the school has developed its grounds to provide a range of high-standard external facilities including a large playing pitch complete with ball-stop nets, a newly developed multi-purpose pitch with synthetic grass surface and floodlights and a hard court area that is lined for basketball and tennis. Two additional dressing rooms have also been built recently to accommodate students and teams when using the external facilities. The school is highly commended for its initiative in ensuring that there are sufficient facilities and resources available to support the delivery of the physical education programme. Furthermore, the vision of school management and staff in establishing links with local community groups by making their excellent sports facilities available after school hours is testament to the school’s commitment to the wider community of Johnstown.


Financial provision for the purchase of replacement and additional equipment and resources is made on a needs basis through the established requisition system. This system is reported to work well, with the storeroom containing sufficient equipment and resources to deliver all the planned strands of the syllabus. The physical education department has access to televisions, video and DVD players, as well as access to a data projector and some digital video equipment. Whilst information and communication technology (ICT) is used in the planning and delivery of some aspects of the programme, there is scope for the further integration of digital technology to enhance students’ learning in Physical Education. Further information regarding the use of this technology and its application may be found on or through the DVD resource “Digital Video in Physical Education”.


Sport is highly valued by the school and the support for the extra-curricular sports programme is highly commended. The achievement of the school in winning the All-Ireland vocational schools’ senior hurling final is a great credit to the work of the students and their teachers. This success is even more remarkable given the size of the school. It is also commendable that the school has introduced new activities to cater for all students including basketball and hockey. The display of newspaper clips and photographs of the school’s involvement and achievements in various sporting events highlights the positive contribution sport makes to the ethos of the school. The involvement of a large number of teachers who promote, organise and coach the various activities and teams is highly commended.


Planning and preparation


The process and commitment to subject department planning for Physical Education is highly commended. This process is informed by the planning structures developed at a whole-school level. Subject department planning is facilitated by management through the provision of formal meeting times at least once per term. The role of the subject convenor is clearly defined and is undertaken by teachers in a voluntary capacity. The duties of the subject convenor include liaison with senior management, organisation of meetings and ordering of new equipment and resources. The position of subject convenor is rotated regularly, which is good practice as it broadens the experiences and expertise of all teachers in the department. The recording of the minutes of formal meetings is also good practice as it ensures that issues discussed and decisions made are available to management, whilst also providing a record of the evolution of the subject and the physical education programme in the school. Clear links have been established with the school’s whole-school planning co-ordinator and copies of the minutes of formal meetings are retained in both the physical education department and whole-school planning files. This good practice ensures consistency in the planning process across all subject departments. The development of an “action plan” arising from the formal Physical Education planning meetings is exemplary practice, as this ensures that tasks are assigned and milestones are achieved within specified timeframes. It is also commendable that some discussion has taken place at planning meetings regarding effective teaching and learning strategies appropriate to each strand of the syllabus.


The physical education subject plan is a detailed, comprehensive document and is presented in a clear and accessible format. The overarching aims, organisation, facilities and resources to support the subject are clearly presented, along with the programmes of work for each year group. The inclusion of a brief report of teachers’ experiences at in-service courses and the relevancy of these learning experiences to the whole school is particularly noteworthy.


The planned programme of work is in line with the syllabus and teacher guidelines and reflects the planning framework promoted by the JCPESS. The range and number of planned activities ensures that the school optimises the facilities and resources at its disposal. It is good practice that each planned activity module is supported by a detailed scheme of work. These schemes of work clearly specify the aims and objectives, content and teaching and learning strategies. Some resources have been developed to support students’ learning for each activity module, such as word-searches of key terms and resource cards. This is commendable as these resources also help to promote students’ literacy. To enhance this good work, it is recommended that the physical education department focus on developing additional resources to support students’ learning for each of the planned units of work. Some of these resources could be used to enhance the quality of self and peer-review or for the greater inclusion of students who may not be able to participate in the planned physical activities.


A detailed TY physical education programme of work has been developed and is in keeping with the overall aims and ethos of the TY programme. The range of experiences include a certified coaching course, self-defence classes, a module on health-related lifestyles, trips to an outdoor education centre and the local sports complex, and undertaking a series of team-building activities. In addition, TY students learn to perform a number of athletic events, apply their knowledge to coach first-year students in these events and organise the annual sports day for first and second-year students. All of these activities are appropriate to the TY programme as they promote personal development, leadership, social and communication skills. The activities are also contrasting in nature to those that are studied by students in junior cycle or in fifth and sixth year and thereby expand their knowledge and understanding of lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity.


The programme of work for LCA students follows the Leisure and Recreation programme as outlined in the syllabus and teachers guidelines. However, the time allocation for this programme is below the recommended amount and therefore the potential to complete the entire planned programme is compromised.


Formal links have been established between the physical education department and the school’s learning-support team. These links provide valuable opportunities for sharing and disseminating methodologies and best practice to support teachers in their work with students with special educational needs. Reference to the needs of these students is made in the various department schemes of work and a range of strategies for their inclusion and full participation is documented. This practice is highly commended.


The school has prioritised its attention to meeting all legislative requirements with respect to health and safety issues at a whole-school level. A recent health and safety audit has been undertaken of the school’s sports hall, sports equipment and facilities and any recommendations arising from this report have been implemented by the physical education department. There is evidence of a good awareness of potential risks, and strategies have been developed to minimise students’ exposure to such risks through clear guidelines for behaviour, handling apparatus and equipment and appropriate instruction. Some of the existing gymnastics equipment is in need of replacement and it is recommended that the physical education department plan for the acquisition of replacement and additional equipment to enhance the provision of this strand of the syllabus. A range of texts, videos and DVDs have been developed to support the physical education programme and are centrally stored for easy access.


The school promotes a culture of self-evaluation through regular use of diagnostic windows, action plans and subject plan review. This is commendable, as reflection on existing practice and the achievement of the programme’s intended learning outcomes will help to further strengthen the delivery of the physical education programme and the learning experiences of all students.


Teaching and learning


A good standard of teaching and learning was evident in the physical education lessons observed. An efficient and effective system of assembly and roll-call ensured that time for class activities was optimised. This is especially important given the limited time available for practical activities in single-period lessons. The topics taught in the lessons observed were athletics, team challenges and health-related activity. Teachers shared the content of the lessons with students and this practice was most effective when the intended learning outcomes were also specified. This strategy helped students to understand the purpose of the activities that they were engaging in and provided clear criteria on which they could judge their success. The extension of this practice to all lessons is recommended.


All lessons began with warm-up activities that were appropriate to the age and ability of the students and directly related to the focused activity. When stretching exercises were included as part of the warm-up, teachers used this time to question students to link each exercise to the target muscles and joints. This is good practice as it ensures that students become familiar with their anatomy and learn to associate joint range of motion with exercise efficiency and orthopaedic health. In some cases, students were given the opportunity to lead the stretching exercises, which is a commendable strategy as it gives them the confidence to demonstrate and apply their learning.


A variety of teaching strategies was employed, which were effective in engaging students purposefully in their work. These included individual, pair and small-group work, teacher and student demonstration, questioning and discussion. When using demonstration, it is important that the key technical points are clearly highlighted to students to aid them in their understanding. For example, when demonstrating the shot-putt technique, the position of the front and back foot should also be highlighted to ensure an open stance. This will help students to experience the force production possible from the transfer of power from the major muscle groups of the lower limbs through the full rotation of the hips. This will encourage students to perform to a higher level of competence. In such instances, notwithstanding time constraints, short video clips or the use of digital video would have proven effective in providing students with criterion references on which to base their own performance.


Teachers used questioning as a means of involving students in the lessons. Questioning was used effectively to develop lesson content and as a means of recapping at the end of the lessons in order to assess and consolidate learning. In some cases, probing questions were appropriately structured to support students with their answers. This is commendable practice as differentiated questioning ensured that all students experienced success in terms of expressing their understanding of the lesson content.


Good practice was observed when a combination of cognitive and physical tasks was effectively used. In one instance, students were challenged to analyse their physiological responses to physical activity. In this case, students developed a clear understanding of the concept of exercise intensity as well as the skills of measuring resting and exercise heart rates. In another case, students learned the factors influencing effective communication in teamwork through a series of tasks designed to illustrate the roles and responsibilities of team members. These approaches are highly commended as they ensure that students are reflective practitioners in addition to active participants in the learning process.


In most cases, the pace of lessons was good and ensured that the planned programme of activities was covered in the limited time available. However, in some cases an ambitious number of class tasks resulted in insufficient time being available for students to develop their competency in one activity before being required to change to another. As a result, teachers were unable to give as much time as they would have wished with each group to providing the appropriate technical instruction. Whilst it is commendable that teachers have a strong emphasis on optimising the time for physical activity, it is recommended that all class activities be planned to ensure that students have sufficient time to develop and progress their competency and understanding of the focused activity.


Appropriate use was made of the available equipment and some resources such as worksheets were effectively used to aid students’ learning. In one instance, effective use of worksheets ensured that students following the JCSP were skilfully engaged in documenting their heart rate responses to a range of different physical activities and this practice helped to consolidate their understanding of the concept of exercise intensity.


Whilst some efforts have been made to include students who are unable to participate in the planned physical activities, there is scope for the development of a greater range of appropriate strategies to ensure that these students remain fully engaged in the physical education process in all lessons.


Good relationships were evident between the teachers and their students. Lessons were presented in a calm, engaging and enjoyable manner and students’ contributions were welcomed and affirmed. There were some good instances where the teachers instilled confidence in their students to continue their engagement in the class tasks. All practical activities were conducted in an orderly manner, and teachers encouraged students to observe the rules of behaviour and health and safety instructions which had been specified from the outset.


Teachers reviewed students’ learning at the end of lessons through effective questioning and discussion. In some cases, teachers also gave an outline of the content of the next lesson. This is good practice as it creates continuity of learning and aids students’ understanding of the progress they are making in the subject.


Students demonstrated a good understanding of the syllabus content relevant to their ability and were confident in answering both recall and higher-order questions. There was evidence of students’ work displayed on the school corridors, which is commendable as this provides public acknowledgement of students’ efforts, along with contributing to the visually stimulating environment provided by these posters. The motivational benefits that accrue from such an environment should not be underestimated and this practice is commended.




There is a good quality of assessment taking place in Physical Education in this school. Assessment in Physical Education takes place informally through observation of students’ engagement in class activities and through questioning to determine students’ understanding of the focused topics. Involvement in the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus has seen the introduction of self and peer-assessment methods, the completion of performance webs and rich-tasks for some classes, which is commendable. In addition, students following the JCSP complete key statements for each activity module and these are retained in their folders as a record of their engagement and learning. Students following the LCA Leisure and Recreation programme complete key assignments for each activity module, which are also retained in their folders. To further develop the assessment process, it is recommended that the physical education department expand the present system to develop student portfolios of learning, whereby all students can retain a record of their work. This process will help provide a more informed platform from which to base students’ progress and attainment in the subject.


Records of attendance and participation are maintained in a clear and systematic manner for each physical education class. The physical education department attends all parent-teacher meetings and a comment on students’ attainment in Physical Education is included in formal reports to parents at Christmas and summer, which is commendable.


In all lessons observed, students were well behaved and respectful and were fully engaged in their class activities. Teachers are commended for their strong commitment to providing for the physical activity needs of their students.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Physical Education is well resourced and organised in Coláiste Mhuire.

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

·         Management is fully supportive of the continuing professional development of teachers. The physical education department participates in the various in-service programmes and maintains active links with relevant professional bodies.

·         There is a good range of well-maintained facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education. Excellent external facilities have been developed by the school to support the delivery of the physical education and school’s sports programmes.

·         Subject department planning is well advanced in the school and a comprehensive physical education plan has been developed.

·         The programme of work for each year group is clearly presented and supported by detailed schemes of work that address all areas relevant to the effective organisation and delivery of the subject.

·         There is a good range of activities planned for TY in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the programme.

·         Guidelines have been developed to ensure that all relevant health and safety risks in the physical education setting are addressed. 

·         There is a good quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education and lessons are characterised by good levels of student engagement. 

·         There is an ethos of inclusion in Physical Education for students of all abilities, and strategies for identification and planning for students with specific needs are in place.

·         Students are educated in a positive, caring environment where an atmosphere of mutual respect exists and where the quality of teaching and learning is of a good standard.

·         The quality of assessment in Physical Education is good and students’ engagement and progress in Physical Education are included in school reports to parents.

·         Sport is highly valued by the school and despite its relatively small student population the school has achieved significant national success. The extra-curricular sports programme is actively promoted, organised and delivered by a large number of dedicated teachers.


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 provision for Physical Education to ensure that all students have access to the subject in accordance with the Department of Education and Science guidelines.

·         There is scope for the further integration of digital technology to augment students’ learning in Physical Education.

·         A greater range of appropriate strategies and resources should be developed to ensure that students who are unable to participate in the planned physical activities remain fully engaged in the physical education process in all lessons.

·         It is recommended that the physical education department expand the present system of assessment to develop student portfolios of learning.  


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 February 2009