An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Millstreet Community School
Millstreet, County Cork
Roll number: 91390F
Date of inspection: 27 October 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 April 2007
the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Millstreet Community School. 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 principal, deputy principal and subject teachers.
Millstreet Community School is a co-educational school with a current student enrolment of 294 students, 138 of whom are boys and 156 of whom are girls. There is an excellent level of provision for Physical Education in first year and in Transition Year with students in these years timetabled for a total of four periods per week (approximately 160 minutes). This level of provision in these year groups is commended and is in excess of the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Second Level Schools 2004-2005. A double period of Physical Education (approximately 80 minutes) is provided in each of second and third year but it is a matter of considerable concern that Physical Education is not timetabled for students in fifth and sixth year. Although parental pressure for good results in the Leaving Certificate examination is cited as the main reason for this, the situation has to be regarded as unsatisfactory and the school is encouraged to address the issue.
Though it is acknowledged that a number of senior cycle students are involved in extra-curricular and co-curricular physical activity, this cannot be regarded as an appropriate substitute for a quality programme of Physical Education. The recommendations of the National Task Force on Obesity Report, 2005, as well as other publications, have highlighted the vital role that quality Physical Education can play in the fight against obesity as well as its role in providing students with the foundation for an overall healthy, active lifestyle. At a time when the drop-out rates from physical activity among students in their late teens is a cause for concern (Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board; School Children and Sport in Ireland, ESRI 2005) there is a particular onus on schools to create a positive attitude towards physical activity among all students. There is a significant danger that, by removing Physical Education from the school timetable in fifth and sixth year, the perception may be created among this population that physical activity is a low priority for them and that it is mainly for younger students. It is therefore recommended that all students are provided with timetabled lessons in Physical Education in accordance with Department of Education and Science guidelines. Should parental resistance to this idea be encountered, the school should inform parents of the benefits of Physical Education for students of this age group. The positive impact of initiatives in other countries, such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK have shown that schools which provided two hours of quality Physical Education per week accrued many benefits, not just confined to Physical Education, but also including a better motivated and engaged student cohort, lower absentee rates and less discipline problems. All of these positive attributes can be expected to assist, rather than detract from student achievement in the Leaving Certificate examination.
The school’s main physical education teacher was on leave at the time of the inspection and the substitute physical education teacher holds qualifications which are currently awaiting ratification by the Teaching Council. There are also a small number of other teachers involved in the teaching of the subject who do not hold teaching qualifications in Physical Education. These teachers, however, hold some coaching qualifications in Gaelic games and as such are used in an assistant or coaching capacity to provide coaching modules in Gaelic games, chiefly to Transition Year students. This is regarded as an acceptable use of the talents of these teachers and is regarded by them as being complementary to their extra-curricular involvements. While it is recommended that all physical education lessons are taken only by fully qualified physical education teachers, the deployment of staff with expertise in particular areas to assist in the delivery of specific modules of activity is acceptable. When these teachers are timetabled for physical education lessons, however, this should only be done when a qualified physical education teacher is timetabled concurrently. In such an instance, it should be made clear that the qualified physical education teacher is the person in charge of the lesson and that, due to the inherent health and safety risks associated with involvement in Physical Education, the other teacher(s) are there in an assistant, supervisory or coaching capacity. Notwithstanding this, it must be pointed out that the there were no incidents of unsafe or dangerous practices observed in any physical education lessons during the inspection and excellent safety standards were applied at all times.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are very good, with a full-sized hall, hard-court area and pitch the main facilities used. It was reported that the pitch, though spacious and level, is prone to water-logging during winter months and that this makes it difficult to use for both physical education lessons and extra-curricular sport. The fact that there is no netting behind the goals also creates some difficulties as it means that valuable time is wasted trying to retrieve footballs and sliotars when students take a shot at goal. This is a particular problem at one end of the pitch where the goal is adjacent to a marshy, wooded area. It is recommended that the school investigate the possibility of providing a protective netting to help to alleviate this problem and that remedial action to combat water-logging be considered.
Planning and preparation in Physical Education, both in individual lessons and at whole-school level, is of the highest quality. A formal physical education plan has been completed in line with a standard planning template, including a subject department policy checklist and a whole-school assessment policy template, for all subjects in the school. This is regarded as good practice as it provides a coherent structure to planning and helps planning in individual subject areas integrate with whole-school planning. The school’s mission statement is the focal point for overall planning in the subject and the overall aims of Physical Education in the school are consistent with the mission statement. Planning is also detailed regarding the needs of students with special educational needs and a list of students with particular medical disabilities is maintained. Planning in the area of teaching and assessment methodologies is also evident with a range of assessment methodologies outlined, including assessment for learning, together with differentiated teaching strategies for students with learning difficulties. This level of detailed, considered planning is highly commended.
A very detailed outline of topics to be covered in both practical and theoretical lessons in Physical Education for each year group has been documented. This document displays a keen awareness of the physical, emotional and developmental needs of students and takes these into account in planning a broad range of interesting and challenging activities. It also includes detailed schemes of work for every topic to be covered in each year group. The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the revised Junior Cycle Physical Education Syllabus and the range of activities planned is in line with the aims of this syllabus. It is recommended that the inclusion of trampolining as an activity in the junior cycle physical education programme be reviewed, however. There is some concern internationally about the appropriateness of this activity from a health and safety perspective and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (USA, 2002) in its paper The Use of Trampolines and Mini Tramps in Physical Education recommended, among other things, “that trampolines should never be used in the home environment, in routine physical education classes, or on playgrounds” and that their use in Physical Education should be confined to elective physical education lessons where a list of strict safety guidelines are followed. It is strongly recommended that these guidelines be consulted prior to any future use of the trampoline in the school’s physical education programme and that a purpose-built safety harness be installed by suitably qualified personnel and employed in any future use of this item of equipment.
In Transition Year, good opportunities are provided for students to experience a range of activities that are not normally available in other years, such as golf, aquatics and self-defence. This is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the Transition Year programme. In this regard, a coaching module in Gaelic games has been particularly successful as it has provided students with opportunities to develop leadership skills and has enabled them to work on their own initiative. These students are encouraged to apply the skills learned during Transition Year by assisting in the coaching of school teams when they are in fifth year. It is a measure of the success of the coaching module in Transition Year that the overwhelming majority of students who completed the coaching module are, in their present fifth year, currently involved in coaching school teams, most notably the boys football (senior, under 16 and under 14 years), hurling (senior, under 16 and under 14 years), camógie (under 16 years) and girls football. This is a testament to the success of this programme and reflects positively on the willingness of both teachers and students to contribute to the development of extra-curricular sport in the school.
The philosophy, which underpins the provision of extra-curricular sport in the school, is commendable as the stated aim is to involve as many students as possible and to stress participation, development of skill, development of leadership qualities, respect for one’s peers and fair play, rather than competition, as the key. This philosophy is commended and is regarded as essential to the promotion of lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity. Although it is clear that the commitment of teachers in providing extra-curricular sporting opportunities for students is having a significant positive impact in the school, some concern was expressed regarding the long-term provision of these activities in the event of retirements or other changes is teaching personnel. It is recommended that management continue to promote and encourage the involvement of staff and students in extra-curricular sport at every available opportunity so as to enable these activities to continue to thrive well into the future. In particular, opportunities to highlight the involvement and successes of school teams in various competitions should be regularly availed of through newsletters and any other communication to parents. In this regard, the use and regular updating of the school’s website should be considered essential to the promotion of these activities.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in this school was excellent and all lessons had a clear, logical structure due to excellent prior planning and preparation. Lessons began in an orderly manner with students requested to observe school rules by removing any jewellery before entering the physical education hall. A small container was provided by the teacher for this purpose and students co-operated fully, placing watches, rings etc. in this. The teacher called the roll at the start of each lesson and also used this time to briefly recap on the learning from the last lesson. Students were informed of the subject matter and the aims and objectives of the current lesson and this is to be commended as the sharing of the learning goals with pupils helps to give them a focus and direction for the lesson and assists in motivating students. Groups were pre-arranged by the teacher for practices and drills and each group also had a group leader or captain assigned to it. These students were given some additional responsibility during the lesson and were asked to lead the rest of the group in warm-up activities. This is commendable as the provision of opportunities for student-lead learning helps to give students a greater sense of autonomy in the learning process, encourages leadership skills and helps them to take greater responsibility for their learning. Students devised a range of warm-up activities and, though the quality of these varied from group to group, the underlying principles of the need for warm up were understood by all groups. These were elicited by careful group and individual questioning on the part of the teacher. Students also performed stretching exercises correctly and were able to identify the correct exercises required to stretch particular muscle groups.
Class materials, including team bibs and marking cones, were set out in advance of lessons, with handouts that were given to students and charts displayed on the walls being used effectively and appropriately to enhance learning. Students were set a range of challenging tasks that maintained their interest throughout and allowed them to work effectively and achieve success at their own level. Care should be taken when giving instructions to students that too much information is not given to them all at once. This is particularly important when practices and drills are being explained to younger students as these students may not have the same level of understanding as older students and thus may find it difficult to take in a lot of information at once. It is recommended that brief explanations, followed by an opportunity to practice, are given to these students especially when setting up a multi-station practice where students are performing different activities at different locations. When these types of activities are used it is important that the balance is correct between all stations so that each activity is structured so that it is, broadly, as interesting and challenging as the next. In this regard an activity that involved students passing in basketball was not as demanding as one that involved students in performing lay-ups. This was quickly noticed and rectified through the introduction of a variation and an added level of difficulty to the passing drill. This worked very well and had the effect of maintaining student interest and motivation throughout. Teachers affirmed student efforts and provided individual attention to students as required. This helped the weaker students to achieve a good level of success. Conditioned games were organised that encouraged students to apply skills learned during drills and practices and this is considered good practice as it helps to consolidate learning.
There were many examples of high-quality, reflective practice seen in the lessons inspected with students given opportunities to analyse and evaluate their own and each other’s learning on a regular basis. This created a highly engaging learning environment for students and motivation levels were consequently very high. A feature of lessons was the time students were given to either discuss their performances with a partner or group, to plan tactics during team games, or to reflect on what worked well during the game and what changes they would make in future. The teacher provided an appropriate level of stimulus for these discussions either through handouts or through providing general headings for discussion. This exemplified high quality assessment for learning pedagogy and is considered excellent practice as it goes a long way towards encouraging students to become reflective, analytical, skilful performers.
Lessons ended with the teachers again providing students with opportunities to lead their peers in cool-down activities and these were again performed conscientiously by all students. The teacher recapped on the lesson content and questioned students regarding the key concepts that had been dealt with in the lesson. Students were encouraged to ask questions and those who did so had their questions dealt with in a sensitive and responsive manner that made them feel that their contribution was valued. An excellent rapport existed between students and teachers and an unforced code of discipline ensured that all lessons progressed smoothly and without any incidents of inappropriate behaviour.
Responses to questioning from teachers and the inspector as well as the standard of student performances during the lessons observed indicate that students are achieving to a very high level in Physical Education. Particularly impressive is the level of interest and engagement of students involved in the Transition Year coaching module and the way these students are not only working on their own skill level but are constantly thinking how they can transmit their knowledge and skills to younger students. This has the effect of creating a deeper level of understanding among these students than if they were merely focusing on their own skill acquisition and is highly commended.
Good records are maintained regarding student attendance and participation in physical education lessons and the teacher’s journal is also used to record any medical or other health issues that might impact upon a student’s participation in Physical Education. Assessment typically takes place at the end of a block of learning and this can take the form of observation by the teacher of student performance or the setting of a group task such as the performance of a sequence in gymnastics etc. The physical education teacher attends all parent-teacher meetings and Physical Education is part of all written reports to parents which take place three times per year. In these reports a comment is included indicating that students are either working towards achieving or working beyond the expected level for their age and ability. A comment is also included on the overall effort and attitude of students during physical education lessons. Such examples of formative assessment are highly commendable and provide essential information to students enabling them to reflect on their learning during a block of activity.
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 and deputy principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.