An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Roll number: 61860V
Date of inspection: 24 January 2007
Date of issue of report: 4 October 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Dominican College, Wicklow, 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 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.
Dominican College Wicklow is an all girls’ secondary school with a present enrolment of 523 students. Physical Education is a core subject for all students and the subject enjoys a healthy status in the school. The school employs two full-time teachers with responsibility for delivering a comprehensive Physical Education programme. Both teachers are graduates of the subject and have extensive teaching experience. A member of the Physical Education department also holds a special duties teachers post for the coordination of extra-curricular activities.
The role of subject coordinator is rotated annually and this system ensures that each member of the Physical Education department gains the experience of leading the subject and sharing the responsibility for its continued development. The timetabling of one dedicated planning period per week by management is highly commendable as this practice promotes continuous reflection and self-evaluation. Management supports the continuing professional development of staff and both Physical Education teachers have attended inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. The school is now actively implementing this new syllabus.
Junior cycle classes are timetabled for two single period lessons per week and Transition Year (TY) students receive one double period and one single period per week. This year has seen an increase in the timetable allocation for senior cycle students, from one to two single periods per week. Management has recognised the need and benefits of quality Physical Education for all students and the increase in senior cycle allocation reflects this commitment and is commended. The time allocation for Physical Education in Transition Year is in line with the recommendations as outlined in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/05, (Pages 7, 141). Although Physical Education enjoys a high profile in the school, the time allocated to the subject in junior and senior cycle is less than the recommended two hours per student per week, and management is encouraged to work towards providing this provision in the future.
Classes range from thirty-five to forty minutes in duration and although a total of seventy to eighty minutes is allocated to Physical Education at junior and senior cycle, it is unfortunate that this time is split into two classes on different days per week. As students have to change before and after Physical Education lessons, the time remaining for in-depth engagement with the subject matter in single period lessons is relatively short. Schools involved in the implementation of the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus are expected to provide a minimum of one double period per week (circular M15/05). It is acknowledged that some consideration has been given to the timetabling of double periods for Physical Education classes. It is recommended that management review the timetabling of single period lessons in favour of double periods to allow for more continuity and in-depth engagement with the subject matter. This may require some reflection, reorganisation and creativity in relation to the current Physical Education programme to accomplish these changes. At times, this may require timetabling two class groups concurrently for Physical Education, but both teachers should be in a position to plan activity modules to avail of all the facilities at their disposal and avoid unnecessary overlap between class groups.
The facilities available to accommodate the subject include a small multi-purpose indoor hall, a hard court area and a full-sized all-weather pitch. In addition, a storeroom adjacent to the hall is adequately stocked to support all the activities being catered for by the Physical Education programme. The outdoor facilities are well maintained and provide a very suitable resource for the subject. The indoor hall is adequate but may be restrictive for some activities due to its design and size. An annual budget is provided by the school for the purchase of replacement and small items, while larger items of equipment are purchased on a needs basis. The teachers report that this system is working well and management is supportive of the needs of the subject. The school has two computer rooms that are fully broadband enabled and these are accessible to all classes once booked in advance by the subject teacher. There is also access to a digital video camera and editing software, which may be used by subject departments including Physical Education.
Both management and the Physical Education teachers have a good awareness of health and safety issues. A recent fire in the sports hall resulted in some items being in need of repair, which included the replacement of a fire-damaged floorboard and the covering of exposed light fittings. These items have been listed for immediate attention. The Physical Education department has produced it own health and safety statement identifying issues specific to the subject as well as those common to all aspects of school life. It has also produced its own accident report forms for injuries sustained during physical activities. The attention to health and safety is commendable.
There is a broad range of extra-curricular physical activities provided by the school, including hockey, netball, athletics, tennis, camógie, Gaelic football, tag rugby and soccer. Training for these activities takes place both at lunchtime and after school. In addition, students are entered to represent the school in organised equestrian events. The involvement of the Physical Education department and of additional staff members in the organisation and coaching of these activities is highly commended. The students’ achievements in some of these activities are to a very high standard. The school has representatives on the Irish schools netball squads and are the current All-Ireland schools junior cross-country running champions. These achievements help to promote positive engagement in physical activity and sport amongst the students as well promoting the school in the wider community.
Effective collaborative planning and a sense of collegiality are in evidence amongst the Physical Education department in the school. The use of the dedicated planning period each week has resulted in the development of a comprehensive subject plan for Physical Education. All of these planning meetings are documented and include a set agenda, recording of items discussed and allocation of responsibilities to be executed within an agreed timeframe. As a result, the actions taken ensure that there is continuous progression planned for in Physical Education. This is highly commendable. Both long-term and short-term priorities are identified in the subject plan. Planning has been greatly supported by attendance at inservice for the new Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus. The Physical Education department, to suit the specific context of the school, has adapted many of the planning documents recommended by the junior cycle Physical Education support service.
The comprehensive subject plan includes all strands of the syllabus, with the exception of aquatics, which is not possible due to the prohibitive costs involved in transport, hiring of pool and additional swimming teachers. Well-structured units of work support each of the activity strands provided and these units include learning outcomes, learning experiences and subject content as well as assessment and resources. Each unit also contains rich tasks, which helps students to focus on the desired learning outcomes throughout each block of learning. This planning practice is clear, focused and appropriate, and is highly commended.
The Transition Year plan includes a module involving peer group teaching. This is an innovative module to promote confidence and leadership qualities amongst the students, which is good practice. Additionally the Physical Education department consults with sixth-year students when deciding the content plan for this year group. Students are given choices of modules, which are then used to construct the plan for each term. This is exemplary practice as students will assume ownership of the programme and therefore take responsibility for their own learning. As a consequence of this approach, it has been reported that participation rates remain very high within this year group.
The Physical Education department has commenced the development of a bank of resources to support each of the activity strands planned in the Physical Education programme, which is commendable. These resources will provide students with additional information regarding the topic of study, as well as providing challenging tasks for students to complete and opportunities for students to apply their knowledge. The continued development of these resources is encouraged. Whilst there is availability of ICT facilities in the school, they are not frequently used in Physical Education. It is recommended that the Physical Education department plan to include some aspects of ICT into the planned units of work, where appropriate. The use of digital video has been shown to improve students’ cognitive engagement with the subject matter as well as their skill competence. Students may become self-analytical performers by using ICT to facilitate their own learning.
Planning for student access to Physical Education is also commendable. Every effort is made to ensure that students of all abilities are included in the Physical Education programme. The emphasis of both the Physical Education and extra-curricular programmes are on participation and inclusion rather than competition and winning. The extra-curricular activities programme is planned to ensure that the activities provided by the school reflect the interests and availability of these activities in the local community. For example, there are strong athletics, swimming and tennis clubs locally so the extra-curricular programme complements these activities and encourages students to participate in them. This is a commendable approach as it ensures that students may develop their interests in these sports and physical activity outside of school hours and after they leave school. This provides an accessible pathway for students to lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity.
There was a very good standard of teaching and learning in the school. All lessons visited were well prepared with the necessary equipment and supporting resources set up prior to commencement. Additionally, students changed promptly into their Physical Education kit and this helped to optimise the time available for physical activity and engagement in the set tasks. Teachers have developed a very efficient system of recording attendance and participation whilst students are changing, which also optimises time for learning.
In the classes visited, the topics taught were gymnastics, dance and volleyball. Lessons commenced with a thorough warm-up and these activities were closely related to the topic of study. Opportunities were used during this phase of lessons to identify good movement technique and to recap on previous learning. When stretching was incorporated into the warm-up phase, students were questioned regarding the muscle group and joints involved in the exercises. This good practice ensures that students acquire relevant information regarding their anatomy and physical functionality.
Lessons were developed through a series of tasks, with each task linking and building on learning in a progressive manner. Teachers demonstrated key techniques to identify the relevant technical and teaching points. On one occasion students burst into spontaneous applause in affirmation of their teacher’s excellent demonstration. Students also demonstrated and performed to their peers when requested by teachers. Students executed sequences of movement in response to set tasks, composition of a dance routine, or set-plays in court games with confidence and competence. In most cases, students were attentive and receptive to the instructions given by teachers and responded positively and enthusiastically to the tasks set. Instructions given were clear and precise and, in most cases, students were questioned to determine their understanding of the relevant teaching points. Good practice was observed when teachers brought students into a central point to observe a demonstration, or to receive instructions and teaching points for a new task or engage in questioning. It is recommended that this strategy be deployed, when required, to ensure students understanding and to focus their attention on the key teaching points of each set task.
The nature of the tasks set often challenged the students to apply their skills in a creative way. Such cognitive involvement ensured that students grasped the concepts of applied skills in their contextual setting. Good examples of this practice were observed in volleyball when students were required to apply the skills of digging, volleying and spiking to construct an offensive play. Through this applied practice, students learned the tactical application of their skills and were also encouraged to use key terms such as “applied force” and “trajectory” of the ball when practising the drill and applying it into the game context. This is highly commendable practice as it encourages students to engage with the activities on a physical, technical and tactical level. Additionally group tasks provided exemplary opportunities for students to develop social skills of cooperation and teamwork in problem-solving. In a dance lesson, students learned a short routine to an eight-beat rhythm and were then divided into two groups and set the task of applying the steps and rhythm of the routine in their own unique way. Both groups engaged enthusiastically with the task and composed their own choreographed routine that answered the criteria required by the set task. There was obvious learning occurring on many planes during this task, including social, cognitive and physical. Equally, there was huge enjoyment expressed by students during their performances, all of which is highly commendable.
All lessons were very well structured and excellently paced to ensure that the key concepts were learned in the limited time available. However, students could have benefited from more time to develop their competencies in the various activities. There were audible sighs of disappointment at the end of one lesson as students were thoroughly enjoying the group activity that was being led by one of their peers. Teachers have established a very good rapport with their students and all aspects of classroom leadership were approached in a respectful and affirming manner, whilst applying a positive code of behaviour. Teachers regularly moved around the hall to provide individual students and small groups with assistance and clarification of the task or to stress a key technical point to help improve competency.
There was a high participation rate in all classes visited. However, it is recommended that students who are unable to participate in the physical activities be included in other ways such as assisting in the set-up of equipment, umpiring, peer-review of key performance indicators or assisting peers with composition and choreographing of sequences and routines. The planned development of additional support resources will also help the full inclusion of these students in lessons.
Lessons concluded by recapping on the material covered and outlining the topics to be covered in the next lesson. This is good practice as it helps students to understand their progression from lesson to lesson within each block of activity, rather than viewing lessons as merely isolated experiences. Student responses to questioning during the inspection were informed and to a good standard.
Assessment in Physical Education occurs in all lessons through question and answer sessions and observation of students’ participation, application and progress in class activities. It is commendable that the Physical Education department plans to introduce self and peer-assessment as well as the completion of rich tasks as part of the formative assessment process. The development and deployment of these methodologies is encouraged and it is recommended that student folders be maintained to ensure that records can be retained of students’ self-monitoring. This will help to compile a portfolio of student achievement during each block of learning.
Formal reporting to parents takes place four times per year, at October mid-term, Christmas, Easter and summer. In addition, a monthly report with a grade or comment is also sent to inform parents of student progress. Physical Education is included in all of these reports and the frequency of communication with parents is commended.
Students observed during the inspection demonstrated high active and enjoyable engagement in their Physical Education lessons and appear to be achieving well in the subject.
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.