An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Borris Vocational School

Borris, County Carlow

Roll number: 70400L


Date of inspection: 24 October 2007





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 Borris Vocational School, 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Borris Vocational School provides Physical Education for first-year, second-year and Transition Year (TY) students. The timetable provision for classes in these year groups is one double period per week of seventy minutes duration. Whilst the provision for these year groups is adequate to implement a broad Physical Education programme, it is significantly below the two hours per student per week recommended by the Department of Education and Science (DES), Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/2005.


Students in third, fifth and sixth year are not timetabled for Physical Education. This is regrettable, as the withdrawal of timetabled provision may cause these students to form the impression that engagement in physical activity is not a priority in their lives as they grow older. It is acknowledged that year groups who are not timetabled for Physical Education are given priority access to the court facilities during lunch breaks and this in some way encourages students to be physically active. Also there is a high involvement of these students in the school’s extra-curricular sports programme, which is commendable as it ensures that students have the opportunity to engage in some physical activity. However, this cannot be regarded as an appropriate substitute for a quality Physical Education programme. Without formal tuition in the concepts underpinning engagement in physical activity, students are left to develop their skills and formulate their attitudes to a physically active lifestyle in an ad-hoc manner. This is especially the case with students who are not actively engaged in any form of sport, exercise or physical activity outside of school. As puberty is the most biologically sensitive time in the development of young adults, it is important that students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to appreciate the benefits of regular physical activity to their quality of life and wellbeing. A significant number of research studies have shown that students’ academic performance is unimpeded, and is enhanced in many cases, by engaging in quality Physical Education and physical activity. The physiological and neurological adaptations to engagement in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity have been shown to improve cognitive functioning. Furthermore, several agencies promoting health and wellness advocate a commitment to a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity. Schools can make a valuable contribution in this regard through a quality Physical Education programme. It is recommended that the school revise the current levels of provision for the subject and work towards providing timetabled Physical Education for all students in line with DES guidelines.


The Physical Education department is comprised of two teachers, one of whom holds recognised qualifications in the subject and who teaches the majority of the timetabled Physical Education classes. While it is recommended that all Physical Education classes are taken only by appropriately qualified Physical Education teachers, the deployment of teachers with particular expertise in some areas of the syllabus to assist in the delivery of the Physical Education programme is acceptable. However, it is important that all activities take place under the direction and supervision of the qualified Physical Education teacher due to health and safety risks inherent in many activities in Physical Education. It is commendable that both teachers of Physical Education have pursued additional qualifications in specific areas of relevance to the subject. It was reported that management fully supports teachers’ attendance at inservice training whenever courses arise. The Physical Education department has attended recent inservice and systems are in place for the dissemination of relevant information and resources gained at this training to enhance the quality of provision for the subject. This is commendable as it ensures that all students receiving Physical Education will benefit from the new information, innovations and resources gained at inservice. 


There are a range of excellent facilities and resources available to support the teaching and learning of Physical Education in this school. Over the past twenty years substantial efforts have been made by the school and the Parents Association to raise funds for improvements to the existing facilities. As a result of these efforts the school has a large refurbished and extended sports hall and new dressing rooms. During the time of the inspection, the Physical Education department was waiting on the delivery of a range of cardio-vascular and resistance training equipment to be fitted in the balcony area overlooking the sports hall. The indoor facilities also include a fully equipped storeroom and an office. It is commendable that the Physical Education office is to be broadband enabled and it is recommended that this access be extended to the sports hall via a wireless router. The availability of wireless broadband in the sports hall will enable students to easily access electronic resources specific to the topic of study during their Physical Education lessons. The Physical Education department also has access to digital cameras, television, DVD, video and CD players to support teaching and learning.


There are extensive outdoor facilities to support the subject, including a significant hard court area that has recently been resurfaced and is marked for three basketball courts, one volleyball court and two five-a-side soccer courts. In addition the school has a pitch for Gaelic games, a soccer pitch and a small grass area that is often used for athletics. All of these facilities appear to be very well maintained. Regular audits are conducted by the Physical Education department to ensure that health and safety issues are addressed with respect to the facilities and participation in all aspects of the Physical Education and school’s extra-curricular physical activities programmes. This is good practice.


There is a very good tradition of involvement in sport and physical activity in the school and support for extra-curricular activities is exemplary. There is a post of responsibility for the organisation and co-ordination of the school’s extra-curricular programme. This programme aims to encourage participation and places particular emphasis on the involvement of students from third, fifth and sixth year, as already noted. The extra-curricular programme is well co-ordinated and the use of the calendar system ensures that there is a balanced approach to the involvement of teams in competitive fixtures.


There is a good range of extra-curricular physical activities provided, including aerobics, athletics, basketball, camógie, circuit training, Gaelic football, hurling and soccer. The balance between competitive and non-competitive activities is welcomed as it provides for a broader range of students’ interests. Training for these activities takes place both at lunchtime and after school. The involvement of the Physical Education department and of a significant number 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 high standard. The school has won the All-Ireland Vocational Schools Senior “B” Hurling Championship twice in the last three years as well as winning the senior camógie title this year. In addition, students are entered to represent the school in organised equestrian events. The school will host the All-Ireland inter-schools hunter trials this year, which will involve the combined efforts of staff, parents and students in the organisation and running of this event.


The school is highly commended for its efforts to promote the achievements of its students through regular displays of newspaper articles and a wide array of photographs as well as an annual achievements awards ceremony. The school is highly regarded within the local community for the work that it does to promote involvement in sports and physical activity amongst its students.


Planning and preparation


Subject planning in Physical Education is well developed in the school. A team approach is taken to the co-ordination of the subject and management facilitates three formal meetings per year. These meetings are well documented and indicate that relevant issues are discussed and acted upon. A draft Physical Education policy has been developed, which outlines the aims and objectives of the programme in the school as well as many of the organisational procedures associated with its delivery. This is good practice and regular review and updating of this document are encouraged as part of the reflection process of subject planning.


Incoming first-year students complete a profile sheet for Physical Education indicating their sporting interests and any club affiliations, as well as any medical conditions that may be exacerbated by vigorous exercise. This is commendable practice as it helps to inform the Physical Education department about the welfare of these students and also provides useful information by way of nurturing students’ talents.


It is commendable that the Physical Education department is planning for the introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus, and has listed the inclusion of the subject for third-year students as one of its medium-term objectives. To facilitate the introduction of the revised syllabus, the school has requested and secured a school-based development day with a regional development officer from the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS). This is a welcome initiative by the Physical Education department and should help to promote the further development of the subject in the school. 


A plan outlining programme content for each year group receiving Physical Education has been developed with the use of the planning framework documents from the JCPESS. This is welcomed and its further use is encouraged. There is a good balance achieved in the programme of activities, which covers most strands of the syllabus. It is commendable that some considered planning has been undertaken to develop schemes of work to support each activity module. To enhance the development of these units of work, it is recommended that further planning include a focus on the key learning outcomes, as well as identifying the range of teaching and learning strategies to improve students’ achievements.


The planned introduction of the health and fitness suite into the Physical Education programme is most welcome. It is especially noteworthy that the Physical Education department has plans to implement a fitness programme to promote the greater involvement of senior girls in physical activity. This is a welcome initiative for this particular cohort of students as national research has shown that teenage girls are most at risk of early drop out from involvement in sport and physical activity. The challenge for the Physical Education department will be to identify and include those students most in need of this intervention, in the absence of curricular Physical Education.


The TY Physical Education plan reflects a good balance of activities to support the aims and ethos of the programme. The development of leadership and communication skills through involvement in coaching courses is well planned. It is good practice that students are provided with opportunities to apply these skills as assistant coaches in extra-curricular activities. First-aid certification, participation in yoga and dance workshops, as well as modules in health-related fitness, self-defence, orienteering and a residential trip to an outdoor education centre are also well planned and aim to promote positive self-development.


There is a comprehensive range of worksheets and reference texts that may be used as supplementary and stimulus material to support teaching and learning in each activity strand. These materials are stored in a central area within easy access of the sports hall. It is recommended that the Physical Education department plan to expand their range of resources to include additional video and digital materials to further support the teaching and learning of each activity strand of the syllabus. The availability of broadband access and the use of the available digital media equipment will assist in this matter.


It is commendable that links have been established with some of the sports and physical activity providers in the local community. These include the Carlow Local Sports Partnership who has provided funding for coaching development courses. In addition, links with a local rowing club and GAA clubs in the area provide positive avenues for students to develop their interests and talents outside of school.


When equipment is required or needs replacement, the Physical Education department makes requests to the principal who sanctions purchases on a priority basis. It is commendable that the Physical Education department has made an inventory of materials available and conducts regular audits to ensure that there is an ample supply of equipment to facilitate learning in all activities of the programme.


Teaching and learning


There is a good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. The new sports hall is well presented and the Physical Education department has endeavoured to create a visually rich and stimulating environment. Posters and charts on the walls, including photographs and motivational posters, provide valuable reference information to supplement students’ learning in areas such as health-related fitness, principles of warm-up and cool-down, nutritional advice, anatomy and exercise charts.


Teachers were well prepared for their lessons with all the required equipment and stimulus material organised in advance, which is good practice. A clear system of preparation for class was observed, whereby students assembled in an orderly manner for roll call and introduction to the lesson. This involved students arranging the gym benches to face the white board, which was used to display information relevant to the lesson. This practice helped to settle and focus students from the outset. Good use was made of the whiteboard and some valuable health-related fitness principles were well integrated into this phase of the lesson, which provided a focus for students during their warm-up.


In the lessons visited an invasion game was the topic of study with basketball as the focused activity. Warm-up activities were progressive and appropriate with good transitions from the mobility phase to the skill development phase. Good practice was observed where the jump-stop technique was integrated as part of the warm-up to teach students the travelling rule in basketball, which in turn promoted their understanding of the concepts of centre of gravity and stable base of support. In some cases, students were asked to identify a muscle group and to lead the class in performing appropriate stretching exercises for the target joint. This is good practice as it promotes students’ confidence to perform these exercises and to apply their knowledge and understanding of the key teaching points for their correct execution. Similarly, heart rates were recorded throughout the lessons, which helped students associate their exercise intensity with the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion and fitness development. The development of this principle of fitness in an integrated manner is very good practice as it enhances students’ understanding of the concepts of health-related fitness.  


Students were divided into working groups prior to the commencement of the warm-up phase of the lessons and this arrangement facilitated the expedient transition into the development phase. Tasks were well structured and progressive, moving from skill-based practice to application in conditioned games and finally to application in full game settings, which is good practice. There was some good use of demonstration to illustrate the organisational aspects of some practice drills. There was also some good use of questioning, although there is scope for a greater role of this strategy to develop students’ ability to discuss and analyse techniques and strategies related to their performance. It is recommended that teachers expand the use of higher-order questioning to enhance students’ cognitive involvement in the lessons through analysis and evaluation of key concepts and performance indicators.


Teachers endeavoured to include all students in the lessons and most tasks were appropriately set and challenging to students of all abilities. In some cases, students would have benefited from increased opportunities to practise and apply their skills and to this end it is recommended that teachers strive to achieve a balance between the work-to-rest ratio by optimising the use of available equipment and space. It is also important that students are given key points to focus on when observing their peers playing the game to assist the development of their tactical and technical analysis skills, as well as other attributes relevant to team sports such as team work, communication and sportsmanship.


All lessons culminated in students being provided with opportunities to play the game on the full court. Students demonstrated good application of passing and were fully inclusive of all members of their team. However, students would have benefited from a greater structure to help them understand the concepts of positioning in offence and defence, screening and setting in order to apply the focused skills of the game. It is recommended that opportunities are taken to recap and reinforce the key focus of the lesson to consolidate learning. There was an example observed where students were given a worksheet on the rules and regulations of basketball to be completed as a homework assignment, which is good practice and the use of similar tasks for each unit of work is encouraged.


Students were regularly encouraged and affirmed for their efforts in class, which is commendable. Teachers established a good rapport with their students and appeared familiar with each person’s background and sporting interests. Students were very enthusiastic in their participation and response to tasks set by teachers. Students also responded well to questions posed by the inspector and were confident in their communication related to the subject.




The Physical Education department maintains good records of students’ attendance and participation in the subject. Assessment in Physical Education occurs in all lessons through recording of participation, observation of students’ engagement, application and progress in class activities. It is commendable that the Physical Education department has begun to use self and peer-assessment and the completion of a progress wheel for each unit of work. Completed task sheets are retained in a class folder for each class group and it is envisaged that this will lead to the compilation of a student portfolio of learning. The establishment of individual folders for each student is recommended to ensure that all materials produced are appropriately stored. This will also facilitate teachers’ analysis of students’ work produced during each block of learning.


Information on students’ learning is communicated to parents through the formal reporting system, which takes place twice per year, at Christmas and summer. The Physical Education teachers also attend parent-teacher meetings, which take place once per year for each year group.  Physical Education is included in the reports home and students are provided with a comment and a grade, which is commendable. The basis for informing the grade is founded on several aspects of engagement with the subject including participation, material produced by the student, observation of performance and attainment in the activity modules. The continued development of the assessment process and criteria for assessment is encouraged.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         There are excellent facilities available to support teaching and learning in Physical Education in this school. These facilities are very well maintained.

·         There is good awareness of health and safety issues related to facilities and participation in Physical Education.

·         Subject planning meetings take place frequently and the Physical Education department collaborates effectively to plan a comprehensive programme to meet the needs of students who have access to the subject.

·         Management supports the continued professional development of the Physical Education teachers.

·         The Physical Education department is actively planning for the introduction of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus.

·         There was good quality preparation and planning for all Physical Education lessons observed.

·         A good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education was observed during the inspection.

·         Students are educated in a positive and stimulating learning environment where they are regularly affirmed for their efforts. Teachers have established a good rapport with their students who clearly enjoy their Physical Education lessons.

·         Student achievement in Physical Education is reported to parents through the reporting system and parent-teacher meetings.

·         There is a very good tradition of involvement in sport and physical activity in the school and there is exemplary support from management, staff, local clubs and parents for the extra-curricular physical activities programme.

·         Significant efforts are made to provide some physical activity for students who are not timetabled for Physical Education.



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

·         It is strongly recommended that management review the 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, Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools.

·         It is recommended that only teachers with recognised qualifications in Physical Education be deployed to teach the subject.

·         The greater use of strategies to engage students’ cognitively as well as physically in lessons is recommended.

·         It is recommended that teachers regularly recap and reinforce the key focus of lessons to consolidate students’ learning.

·         Future planning should focus on identifying key learning outcomes, as well as the range of teaching and learning strategies to support students’ engagement in the subject.

·         It is recommended that the Physical Education department plan to expand their range of resources to include additional video and digital materials, with particular emphasis on optimising the use of the broadband access in the sports hall.

·         The establishment of individual assessment folders for each student is recommended to ensure that all materials produced are appropriately stored.


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 June 2008