An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Saint Patrick’s Comprehensive School

Shannon County Clare

Roll number: 81007U


Date of inspection: 22 November 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 St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School, Shannon 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, deputy principal and subject teachers.  



Subject provision and whole school support


St. Patrick’s Comprehensive School offers a range of curricular programmes to cater for the educational needs of all its students. Physical Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum and all students, with the exception of those studying Applied Mathematics, have access to the subject. Junior cycle and fourth-year students receive two periods of Physical Education per week and fifth-year students receive three periods per week. Whilst management has attempted to timetable double periods for the subject, a significant number of classes are timetabled for two single period lessons per week. Where this arrangement occurs, significant restrictions are imposed on the level of engagement and in-depth study possible for each topic. Students who follow the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) and who also study higher-level Mathematics are timetabled concurrently with Physical Education, which restricts their access to Physical Education to one period per week. All students should be afforded the opportunity to develop a full and complete understanding of their physical functionality and the factors that underpin engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport, as well as developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes for lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity. It is therefore recommended that the timetable arrangements for Physical Education be reviewed to provide for a minimum of one double period per week for all students, with management working towards increasing the provision for the subject in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science, as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/05. This will facilitate the full implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus, as outlined in Circular M15/05, and afford all students sufficient time to engage fully with the subject matter relevant to their course of study.


The time allocation for the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Leisure and Recreation and Active Leisure Studies programmes is in line with recommended practice. The timetable arrangements are well structured to facilitate the diversity of activities associated with the core and elective modules of these programmes.


The physical education department consists of six teachers, three of whom are graduates of the subject. One of the qualified Physical Education teachers is fully deployed in the LCA and Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programmes. The non-qualified physical education teachers take a small number of classes and it is acknowledged that these teachers make a valuable contribution to the promotion of physical activity and involvement in sport amongst the students. It is also commendable that these teachers do not attempt to cover any activity with which they are unfamiliar and only supervise and coach activities with which they have some background experience and expertise. However, there may be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of teachers without a qualification in Physical Education to take lessons in the subject. Additionally, the implementation of a coherent, relevant and balanced physical education programme requires an in-depth knowledge of the factors that underpin involvement in physical activity, exercise and sport. These factors should be taught in an integrated and progressive manner through a well-structured physical education programme and delivered by an appropriately qualified teacher. Therefore, it is recommended that all timetabled lessons in Physical Education be taken by the qualified physical education teachers to promote best practice and to ensure high quality and consistency in the delivery of the programme.  


The school accommodates undergraduate students undertaking teaching practice in Physical Education every other year. This is commended as the mentoring of trainee teachers can play a positive role in the development of collaborative teaching and stimulate reflection on the quality of teaching and learning within the subject department. Support for continuing professional development was reported to be good, and it is commendable that the physical education teachers have attended inservice for the LCA Leisure and Recreation programme. However, it is regrettable that the school has not engaged in any of the previous four cohorts of in-service for the revised junior cycle physical education syllabus or the new Action for Life health-related fitness package. It is recommended that the physical education department consult the support service website with a view to determining what level of support is available to implement the revised syllabus in the school, and to upskill teachers in the most up-to-date approaches to planning, teaching and learning and assessment for the subject.


The school has invested significantly in providing for the current physical education programme and to support the extra-curricular physical activities programme. A recent re-development of the school’s playing pitch has been undertaken to address drainage issues and to repair the grass surface. The result is a high quality, full-size Gaelic games pitch, with additional ground for use as a teaching and training facility. The school’s sports hall is small and quite restrictive, but is extensively used for physical education lessons and extra-curricular activities. There is also a hard court surface which is used as a recreational area by the students. The school is located adjacent to a local leisure and fitness centre. This centre has a 25-metre swimming pool, a large sports hall, an aerobics studio, a fitness suite and an indoor climbing wall. The school has established a good working relationship with the management of the centre and hires some of these facilities on an ongoing basis during the winter and spring terms to support the delivery of a comprehensive physical education programme. The school is very supportive of day trips for students to visit outdoor education centres and other leisure, recreation and sporting providers and facilities in the region. Management is highly commended for its significant financial commitment to support the physical education programme.  


Management is reported to be very supportive of requests for the purchase and replacement of additional resources and equipment, which are made through the school’s requisition system. Access to computers, digital video and still cameras is available to the physical education department on request. The department is involved in all aspects of health and safety related to its area. First-aid training was provided for all staff members in the school. There are two automated external defibrillators (AED) available in the school and training has been provided in their use, which is commended.


Extra-curricular sport plays a large role in the life of the school and is very well supported and facilitated. A range of sports and physical activities is provided by the school including athletics, basketball, camóige, Gaelic football, hurling and soccer. The school fields several boys’ and girls’ teams in each sport and accommodates all age groups. In addition, students are facilitated to avail of the leisure centre at a discount rate for a range of active leisure pursuits. A high percentage of the school’s staff is actively involved in the organisation and coaching of the various sports and activities. The role that these teachers play in developing a sense of school identity and achievement cannot be underestimated. It is a great testament to the school that so many students are involved in some aspect of the extra-curricular programme and that many of the school’s teams are actively supported by past students. It is commendable that the school has established close working relationships with some of the local sports clubs. It was reported that these relationships help to guide many students to make the transition from school to club level. The achievement of some of the school’s teams at both regional and national level reflects the dedication and commitment of the students and their teachers to the pursuit of success. Students observed were highly motivated, eager and talented participants in their sports.


Planning and preparation


A formal planning meeting is facilitated by management at the commencement of the academic year for the purposes of discussion and planning for the physical education programme. Additional planning meetings are facilitated if requested or required by the physical education department. This is good practice and ensures that dedicated time is available to plan and discuss all aspects related to the physical education programme and its implementation.


At present there is no identified co-ordinator for the subject in the school, although a senior physical education teacher takes responsibility for most of the organisation to support the programme of activities. The qualified physical education teachers meet to design the programme of activities for all year groups, which is then disseminated to the non-qualified physical education teachers involved in teaching the subject. The non-qualified physical education teachers then decide on the activities that they are most comfortable to teach and attempt to follow as much of the planned programme as possible. It is recommended that a co-ordinator for the subject be appointed, which should be rotated among the qualified physical education teachers on an annual basis. The co-ordinator should ensure that the planning process includes the establishment of documented meetings to discuss all issues relevant to the provision for the subject and the design and implementation of the physical education programme.


There was evidence that much time has been devoted to planning the organisation of the physical education programme, especially in the area of booking facilities and securing resources to support the planned programme of activities. The organisation and planning invested in providing for student access to the range of activities as well as the costing and logistics associated with managing class groups is highly commended. Collaboration with the local primary schools to co-ordinate access to the swimming pool is also welcomed.


The physical education subject plan consists of a list of activities blocked into terms. Some key skills are identified for most of the activity blocks, which adds some depth to the plan. A review of this documentation indicates that each year group is exposed to a wide range of activities. Whilst these activities cover most strands of the syllabus, their duration may be quite short. There is a need to identify how students will progress their knowledge and skills in each activity in an incremental manner. It is recommended that activity blocks be of sufficient duration to allow students to develop the core skills and competencies of the activity, as well as their knowledge and understanding, through studying the key principles underlying each activity strand. There is a need to develop a comprehensive subject plan for Physical Education. This plan should provide a rationale for the subject in the school and link with the school’s mission statement. It should outline the guiding aims and objectives for the subject and identify the key learning outcomes for each year group and each unit of work. It is also important that each unit of work identifies the teaching and learning methods best suited to enable students to achieve the desired learning outcomes.


The Leisure and Recreation and Active Leisure Studies plans follow the modules outlined in the syllabus documents. Students’ progress is well planned, with a phased approach to the completion of key assignments and required tasks.


Teaching and learning


In the lessons visited, the topics of study were dance, an investigation of career options in the leisure industry, rock-climbing, badminton, basketball, rounders and uni-hoc. Students changed quickly and assembled in an orderly manner for their physical education lessons. Most lessons began with a roll call to record attendance and participation and it is recommended that this good practice be extended to all lessons.


In most cases, teachers had the required equipment prepared, which aided the expedient commencement of these lessons. Students demonstrated good behaviour and responded promptly to tasks set in all lessons observed.


When warm-up activities were used to commence lessons, these were appropriate to the focused activity in most cases. Best practice was observed when the warm-up activities followed a definite structure consisting of a general mobility phase to raise body temperature and gradually increase oxygen uptake, specific joint range of motion exercises identifying the relevant muscle groups and targeted joints to increase short-term flexibility, and a revision of the skill patterns and concepts learned in previous lessons. This practice familiarises students with aspects of their functionality that are related to metabolism, joint mobility and orthopaedic health and reinforces previous learning. In some cases, students were questioned regarding the structure and benefits of warming-up prior to engagement in vigorous physical activity, which is also good practice. At times, teachers shared the intended learning outcomes of the lesson with their students and the extension of this practice to all lessons is encouraged. This will help ensure that students remain focused during their lessons and can gauge their progress against the desired learning outcomes.


There was a varied standard of teaching and learning in lessons observed. Some lessons focused on providing physical activity for students through skill drills and supervised play, whilst other lessons had a clearer learning focus. In one setting, students were afforded opportunities to conduct independent research in the leisure centre and reported back to their teacher at regular intervals, which is good practice. It is advisable that teachers avoid setting tasks that result in student exclusion such as knock-out drills, as was observed in one lesson. This activity may prove challenging and motivating in a competitive environment where the participants are highly skilled, and variations of this activity are usually used in training settings to impose competitive stress on skilled performers. However, it is not appropriate as a teaching and learning activity for the purpose of acquiring and developing skill competence in novice and less-skilled learners, as it is based on failure and exclusion. This results in the least skilful students, who are most in need of practice, being quickly eliminated from the activity, thereby reducing their opportunities for skill development. It is recommended that tasks and strategies to reinforce success be developed and used during all skill acquisition practices in the physical education setting. It is also recommended that the use of available equipment and space be planned to optimise students’ involvement in each of the activities. This will avoid queuing and maximise the amount of time for students to develop their skills.


Good practice was observed when students were actively engaged in well structured and applied tasks with brief but regular demonstrations and question and answer sessions. This helped to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of skill-related techniques or the application of these skills in the activity or game setting. It is recommended that teachers encourage students to develop an understanding of how to acquire and apply skills, techniques and strategies. In this way, students will be cognitively as well as physically involved in the learning process.


Participation levels were high in most lessons. However, it is suggested that some strategies and resources be developed to support the greater inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the practical activities of the lessons. These may include task-specific worksheets, umpiring, videoing and peer-review of key performance indicators. 


Good firm classroom management was observed in all lessons and teachers had developed a good rapport with their students, who were affirmed when merited for their participation and performance.  All interactions in lessons were cordial and respectful.


Some lessons concluded with a recap on the key learning objectives through questioning of students to determine their understanding. This is commendable practice as it consolidates the key points of the lesson.




Assessment occurs in some physical education lessons through questioning and observation of participation and engagement in tasks. Reports are sent home to parents twice per year at Christmas and summer and contain comments regarding students’ attendance and participation in physical education lessons. The physical education teachers also attend parent-teacher meetings once per year for each year group, which is good practice. It is important that teachers can engage with parents regarding students’ learning as well as their participation in Physical Education. To this end, more specific criteria and modes of assessment should be developed to determine students’ learning. It is recommended that the physical education department refer to the work conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on assessment for learning, as well as the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) for information on the development of student portfolios of learning. The compilation of these portfolios will help to illustrate students’ progress in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, as well as their progress in the development of the technical and tactical aspects associated with the focused activities.


Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and required tasks. Analysis of some of the work produced by students following the Active Leisure Studies modules indicates that they are engaging well and producing work to a commendable standard.

Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

·         Physical Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum.

·         The school has invested significantly in providing for the current physical education programme. 

·         The physical education teachers have received in-service education for the implementation of the LCA Leisure and Recreation programme.

·         The timetable arrangements for the LCA Leisure and Recreation and Active Leisure Studies programmes follow recommended best practice. These programmes are well planned and delivered in a supportive environment where students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.

·         Extra-curricular sport plays a major role in the life of the school and is very well supported and facilitated by a large number of dedicated staff members.

·         Members of the physical education department are involved in all aspects of health and safety related to their area and they have received first-aid training.

·         Significant time has been devoted to the organisation of facilities and resources to support the planned programme of activities.

·         Teachers have developed a good rapport with their students and interactions in all classes were cordial and respectful.

·         There were some good examples observed of inclusive practice and a diversity of teaching and learning methods being used to ensure that students were both physically and cognitively involved in their learning.

·         Physical Education is included in reports to parents, and the subject teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings.


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


·         The timetable arrangements for Physical Education should be reviewed to provide for a minimum of one double period per week for all students.

·         Management is encouraged to work towards increasing the timetable provision for Physical Education in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science, as outlined in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004/05.

·         All timetabled lessons in Physical Education should be taken by qualified physical education teachers.

·         The physical education department should consult with the Junior Cycle Physical Education support service website to determine the level of support available to implement the revised syllabus and supporting methodologies in the school.

·         A member of the physical education department should take responsibility for the co-ordination of the subject, which should be rotated on an annual basis.

·         There is a need to expand the current physical education subject plan to document all aspects of the provision and delivery of the subject.

·         Tasks and strategies to reinforce success should be developed and used during all skill acquisition practices in the physical education setting.

·         The physical education department should refer to the work conducted by the NCCA and the JCPESS to develop additional modes of assessment.


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 June 2008