An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Coláiste an Chraoibhín
Fermoy, County Cork
Roll number: 70990M
Date of inspection: 26 September 2006
Date of issue of report: 22 February 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste an Chraoibhín, Fermoy. 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 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 deputy principal and subject teachers.
Coláiste and Chraoibhín is a co-educational post primary school with a total student enrolment of 426 students, 138 of whom are girls. The school also has a large number of post leaving certificate (PLC) students and adult and continuing education students who accounted for an additional 172 and 171 students respectively in 2005.
All students in the post primary section do Physical Education, although the time allocated to the subject is less than the amount recommended by the Department of Education and Science. At present, a single period of fifty-five minutes duration is allocated to all year groups, with the exception of year two Leaving Certificate Applied students who have no Physical Education, having completed the Leisure and Recreation module during two periods per week in year one of the course. As the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 recommend a time allocation of two hours per week for all students it is recommended that the school review its timetabling arrangements with a view to facilitating this time allocation. A further imperative towards the increasing of the time allocation to Physical Education is the fact that the school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus and this syllabus was written with a time allocation of two hours in mind. It is not possible for the Physical Education teachers to achieve the aims of this syllabus within the current time allocation. Additionally, the experience of students in a Physical Education lesson of fifty-five minutes duration is less than satisfactory as it does not always allow time for topics to be explored in sufficient detail. This can lead to a sense of frustration on the part of both students and teachers. The positive impact of initiatives in other countries, such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK indicates that schools that provided two hours of quality Physical Education per week accrued many benefits and that these were not just confined to Physical Education but also included a better motivated and engaged student cohort, lower absentee rates and less discipline problems.
The fact that some third-year, fourth-year and fifth-year students who are studying Music have no Physical Education is also a matter of concern. Physical Education should be offered to all students as a core subject. A student who makes a decision to study Music should not have to make this decision at the expense of participation in Physical Education. Such a choice is likely to impact negatively on both subjects and should be re-examined at the earliest practicable opportunity.
Physical Education is taught in the school by two dedicated teachers who are making a significant contribution to the overall health and well being of all students. Though the majority of lessons are taken by a teacher who holds a Physical Education qualification, it must be pointed out that the school has also felt the need to deploy another teacher in this area who, though an extremely dedicated professional, does not hold a qualification that is recognised by the Department of Education and Science for the purposes of teaching Physical Education. The school has to bear in mind that there is a body of specialist knowledge pertaining to Physical Education which a person without specific training in the area cannot be expected to have. This is important with regard to pedagogical issues but is particularly important with regard to health and safety procedures. While schools are entitled to assume that a qualified physical education teacher is au fait with all relevant safety procedures, the same automatic assumption cannot be made in the case of persons who do not hold such a qualification. Although it must be pointed out that no incident of unsafe or potentially dangerous practice was observed in any lesson during the inspection at Coláiste an Chraoibhín, it is nonetheless recommended, as it is nationally, that all physical education lessons should only be taken by teachers with the appropriate qualifications. It must also be recognised that the contribution that the teacher without the appropriate physical education teaching qualifications is making to the overall culture of sport and other physical activities in this school is very significant. The recent ESRI report School Children and Sport in Ireland (2005) highlights the contribution that such persons are making in schools and a challenge facing senior management in the school will be to maintain this hugely positive contribution while at the same time affording all students the opportunity to experience physical education lessons delivered by a fully qualified physical education professional.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are good and include a hall, a hardcourt area, grass pitch and running track. In addition to these facilities, which are available on-site, the school also makes use of locally available leisure facilities in the town. The use of such facilities is commended as it can add variety to the experience of students in physical education lessons. Though the on-site facilities are good, the changing rooms for students are very small and the result of this is that some students occasionally have to change for physical education class in the toilets as the dressing rooms are overcrowded. This is obviously unsatisfactory and is something that the school should work towards remedying if at all possible. Any such remedial measures might also address the size of the physical education hall and ancillary storage area which are also smaller than ideal for a school of this size. The equipment available for the teaching of Physical Education is satisfactory and management facilitates the annual purchase of any equipment that is needed by the physical education department.
There is a very healthy range of extra-curricular and co-curricular physical activities provided in the school. Among the areas of provision are basketball, football, soccer hurling, camógie, Gaelic football (girls and boys), rugby, pitch and putt, golf, equestrian activities, athletics, aerobics, swimming, volleyball and outdoor pursuits. The provision of such a broad range of activities is commended as it can be expected to impact positively on a large number of students and may provide the first steps towards a lifelong interest in health and physical activity for many students. The selfless effort of a significant number of staff in providing these activities is also highly commended as involvement in such provision can be very rewarding for both teachers and students alike.
Both physical education teachers meet at the start of the school year as part of the subject planning process to plan for Physical Education and regular, informal meetings take place subsequent to this initial meeting. Physical Education is co-ordinated by the senior physical education teacher and an excellent level of subject planning is in place. The physical education plan is a substantial, comprehensive document that includes information on the overall aims of Physical Education in the school and is closely related to the school’s mission statement. It also contains information regarding the policy of inclusion of students with special educational needs, cross-curricular planning relating to Physical Education, the range of teaching methodologies employed and the health and safety requirements in relation to Physical Education. A hazard audit sheet has also been included and this is completed annually to highlight any particular areas of concern that emerge in the subject regarding health and safety. This level of planning is considered very good practice and is highly commended. Future possible areas for development of this plan might include the area of assessment methodologies and this could be addressed as part of the next school development planning day.
In addition to the overall plan for Physical Education, a thorough level of planning has also taken place in line with the requirements of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus and the school is commended for its involvement in this initiative as it has the capacity to bring a coherent structure, breadth and balance to Physical Education at junior cycle. The range of activities planned by the physical education department provide for a balanced, broad experience for students at junior cycle in line with the aims of the syllabus. Individual lessons also benefited from very thorough planning and appropriate class materials, including handouts, charts and worksheets, were available and used to good effect to aid teaching. Cross-curricular planning is taking place particularly between the physical education department and the home economics department with regard to a health education week which will take place in the coming year. Such initiatives are to be commended and are indicative of a whole-school approach and interest in the overall health and well-being of students.
The range of activities planned for Transition Year includes opportunities to participate in an outdoor education course as well as modules in self defence, first aid and a leadership course. These activities are provided in addition to the timetabled provision in Physical Education. It is the policy of the physical education department that all students with special educational needs are fully integrated into physical education lessons as much as practicable. The physical education teachers have expressed an interest in availing of any professional development opportunities that may arise in the area of special educational needs in Physical Education.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was good, with students challenged both mentally and physically in all lessons. A feature of all lessons was the excellent rapport that existed between teachers and students and the relaxed but businesslike atmosphere in which lessons took place. A firm but unforced code of discipline was in place and it was obvious that clear rules and expectation for student behaviour had been well-established in previous lessons.
All lessons began with a warm-up activity which usually involved students jogging around the hall or outdoor area for a period of one to two minutes. Although this achieved the purpose of getting students sufficiently warm in advance of more strenuous activity, it is recommended that some variety be introduced here as students can find jogging around a little monotonous due to the comparatively small size of both the hall and hardcourt area. Ideally the warm-up activity should be related to the lesson content and should engage students and prepare them mentally and physically for the activities that are to follow. A thorough range of stretching activities were performed conscientiously by all students and teachers used this time to give students health related information with regard to the names of the muscles being stretched. It is also commendable that this time was often used to give students information about the lesson and its objectives. The sharing of learning goals with students in this manner is considered good practice and should be extended to all lessons as it can be motivational and can help place learning in context with previous learning.
The development phases of all lessons involved students in a range of purposeful, enjoyable activities aimed at achieving the lesson objectives and challenging students both mentally and physically. Opportunities were provided for students to work individually, in pairs and in larger groups and students applied themselves diligently to the tasks in hand at all times. In lessons dealing with invasion games, the drills and practices set up by teachers involved a clear progression in difficulty and, in many cases, required students to correctly apply learning from earlier in the lesson and from previous lessons. Such practice is commended as it helps students to see each individual skill or lesson as part of a broader area of learning and should encourage them to make connections between key concepts (support play, principles of attack and defence, creating time/space etc.) that are common to both invasion and court games. It is recommended that such key concepts be emphasised regularly in lessons involving invasion games and that, if possible, student knowledge and understanding of these concepts be elicited by careful, individual questioning, rather than the imparting of knowledge and information. Where such questioning techniques were used to good effect in lessons, it was clear that students were thoroughly engaged by the process. Where the teacher made connections for students between good technique in different sports, as in the transference of weight to aid power in kicking the ball in soccer and the chest pass in basketball, this was a significant aid to student understanding and is commended as it helps students to see that there are certain biomechanical principles which are common to both activities. Teachers stopped the practices at appropriate times to reinforce key concepts and gave group and individual attention to students as required. Conditions were set for games that took place at the end of lessons and these conditions required students to focus on the skills learned during the earlier part of the lesson and thus helped to consolidate learning. The performance of students during these games and the quality of responses to questioning from both the teacher and inspector indicated a good level of achievement. As an aid to encouraging the increased involvement of weaker students it is suggested that some conditions should also be applied that give these students an advantage over other students. This would have the effect of rewarding the efforts of these students while at the same time making it important for other team members to involve them, due to the advantageous conditions that they enjoy. Possibilities for such conditions might include not allowing any tackling of a weaker player when he/she is in possession, allowing them a free shot when in possession or allocating a bonus point for a score by one of these players. Other strategies to increase the participation level of weaker players might include the playing of smaller sided games. In this regard the setting up of two games of 4V4 would allow greater participation by all players than one game of 8V8, for example.
At the end of the lessons teachers recapped on the learning that had taken place and this is again commended as it helps to reinforce learning. When probing questions were used by the teacher to elicit information from students the responses indicated a good level of understanding and engagement with the lesson. Questions such as “when do you use a chest/bounce/punt/fist pass” and “how do you retain possession” forced students to reflect on the learning that had taken place during both the skills phase and games phase of the lesson. This practice is commended as it encourages students to become reflective performers. Possibilities for the extension of this approach to other phases of the lesson should also be considered. This might involve using aspects of the assessment for learning methodology where students are encouraged, in a non-threatening environment, to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of their own and each others’ performances. Students could also be encouraged to set their own criteria for success during some of the practices, rather than the teacher setting these criteria on all occasions. As such, a group of students might be encouraged to decide on how many consecutive passes they want to complete in order to regard their performance in a drill as successful, rather than the teacher suggesting that ten completed passes, for example, should be their target. This figure may be easily reachable by some students but may be overly ambitious for others. Allowing students to set their own learning targets in this area encourages them to become more reflective and analytical performers and can also help to reduce feelings of failure should they fail to reach an externally assigned target.
Information regarding the material to be covered in future lessons was also given during the conclusion of the lesson and this helped students to place learning in the context of the broader learning objectives for the block of learning. It was good to see that students who were unable to participate in physical education lessons were involved in officiating and assisting in the setting up of class materials etc. This is commended as it makes students aware that learning can take place even when they are not physically able to participate in the class and makes them feel part of the learning experience.
Records are maintained of student attendance and participation in physical education lessons and these records are used, in addition to assessment of student performance through teacher observation, to inform formal reporting to parents which takes place on four occasions per year. On two of these occasions the teachers write a hand-written report and on two other occasions the report forms part of electronic reports using Facility software. As an aid to more insightful reporting when this software package is used, it is recommended that the physical education department arrange to have a series of customised comments specifically related to Physical Education inserted into the software package. As this capability exists in Facility it should allow the physical education department to provide more useful, accurate feedback on occasions when the existing range of comments are not appropriate. Elsewhere in assessment terms, it is noted that, appropriately, Leisure and Recreation assignments are used for the LCA 1 class, with JCSP statements being employed with 1A4, 2A3 and 3A4 classes. In addition, the physical education department members attend all parent-teacher meetings and are available to meet parents on request. This level of assessment and reporting to parents is commended as it provides regular feedback on the performance of students in physical education lessons.
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 deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.