An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Blackwater Community School
Lismore, County Waterford
Roll number: 91509E
Date of inspection: 28 November 2007
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Blackwater 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 two days during which the inspector visited lessons 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 and subject teachers.
Physical Education is very well provided for and has a high profile in Blackwater Community School. This is exemplified by the fact that there are no fewer than five qualified teachers of Physical Education on staff. The fact that the school principal is also a physical education teacher means that there is an excellent, broad base of experience in the school leading to the planning, development and delivery of a quality programme in Physical Education.
A short-term difficulty has resulted in the timetabling of one additional teacher, who does not hold physical education teaching qualifications, to take a small amount of Physical Education this year. This teacher holds some coaching and other qualifications relevant to Physical Education and is making a significant contribution to the culture of physical activity in the school through involvement in a range of extracurricular physical activities. As the difficulty which resulted in the timetabling of this teacher to take some lessons in Physical Education has recently been resolved, management expects to have all physical education lessons taken only by qualified physical education teachers from the start of the next school year. Management is encouraged to ensure that this takes place as the duty of care which the school has to its students, as well as the principles of best practice, require the school to ensure that students are in the care of a teacher with appropriate qualifications at all times.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are excellent. These include a full-sized physical education hall, an astro-turf pitch and a grass pitch complete with soccer and GAA goals. Teachers also have access to interactive whiteboards and information communication technology (ICT) facilities as required. Apart from these facilities, many of which were provided by the Department of Education and Science when the school was built in 2002, additional physical education facilities have also been developed. Most notable of these is the school’s excellent fitness suite which is located in the balcony area of the physical education hall. The commitment of school management and the parents’ association to the provision and ongoing maintenance of these excellent facilities is commended. In addition to the on-site facilities available, the school also makes occasional use of local community facilities such as the community hall, cricket pitch and soccer pitch.
The timetabled allocation for Physical Education is a double period per week for almost all classes. Although this provision is not uncommon in post-primary schools throughout the country, it falls short of the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005. The school is encouraged to work towards this level of provision for all students. The impact of initiatives such as the Physical Education, School Sport and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy in the UK indicate that schools that provide two hours of quality Physical Education per week to all students can expect many benefits, not just related to Physical Education and health, including a greater motivated student cohort, less absenteeism and a reduction in behaviour problems. A variety of research in other countries also indicates that providing additional time for Physical Education does not harm, and in many cases can improve, academic achievement. The commendable analysis that the physical education department in Blackwater Community School has carried out of students’ Leaving Certificate exam results was also reported as indicating that students who were active in sport achieved very well in comparison to their contemporaries who were not involved. The provision of two hours of quality Physical Education per student is something that can therefore be expected to impact positively on students in the long term.
Although the second-year Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) class has three periods of Physical Education per week, this provision is in the form of three single periods. It is obviously desirable that these students would have a double period of Physical Education as part of this provision and it is recommended that management make every effort to ensure that this takes place.
The quality of planning and preparation for Physical Education in this school is very good. The fact that there are five qualified physical education teachers on staff has led to the creation of a vibrant subject department and all the teachers involved collaborate effectively in the planning and delivery of Physical Education in the school. This planning further extends to the many teachers involved in the delivery of co-curricular and extracurricular physical activities, where the philosophy and values underpinning the delivery of Physical Education in school, such as inclusion, respect and active participation through a number of avenues, are continued. This is highly commended and has led to a situation whereby co-curricular and extracurricular activities complement learning in Physical Education lessons. Among the many such activities taking place in the school are hurling and camógie, soccer, badminton, volleyball, basketball, football and horse-riding. A programme of lunchtime activities is in place for all first-year students and the willingness of teachers to come to school before formal classes begin has enabled students to avail of the school’s excellent fitness suite early in the morning.
While the school values participation by all students in sport and physical activity, and quite rightly appreciates the contribution of the many teachers involved in the delivery of these activities, the school also avails of any opportunities to highlight successes of individual students and teams representing the school. This is commended. The many colourful displays of photographs which can be seen throughout the school’s corridors and display areas do much to heighten the profile of extracurricular activities in the school. Another prominent feature of school life is the annual awards night at which the achievements of students in a variety of sporting disciplines are highlighted and rewarded. This, again, is central to the many excellent ways in which the school demonstrates to students, teachers and parents, the value which it places on participation and involvement in these activities.
A subject co-ordinator is in place for Physical Education and it is considered good practice that this position is rotated among the subject teachers in the department so that the work load is shared and so that all teachers get an opportunity to fulfil the role. While it is acknowledged that much useful planning takes place through informal meetings between teachers, management is commended for also facilitating formal planning in Physical Education by allocating time for at least three formal planning meetings per year. The subject plan for Physical Education is thorough and comprehensive, reflecting the input of all of the school’s physical education teachers. The school’s mission statement is stated at the outset of the plan and the main areas dealt with are the aims and objectives of Physical Education in the school, the time allocated to the subject, resources available, effective teaching methodologies, the use of ICT in the teaching of the subject, assessment and procedures to assist students with special educational needs. The impact of the school’s policies in the last area in particular was clearly evident as the inclusion of students with special educational needs and the level of consideration and respect shown to them by their teachers and peers was laudable.
The school is involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus in which all of the core areas of activity are covered, with the exception of aquatics. The school’s lack of proximity to a public swimming pool makes it unlikely that this can be rectified in the short term and management is encouraged to keep this matter under review in case it becomes possible to gain access to a privately run pool at some future date. Planning, as part of the JCPE syllabus, has included detailed schemes of work for each year group and it was also good to note that the physical education department has identified different, general aims for each year group. A modified curriculum is in place for some junior cycle students in the school and these students have additional games and leisure activities classes as well as their normal physical education classes.
The Transition Year (TY) plan outlines the provision of a range of activities which are in keeping with the ethos of TY. These include a trip to an outdoor education centre, First Aid courses, golf lessons, self defence, rugby and soccer. Opportunities which are provided for students to acquire coaching certification in volleyball, as well as their involvement in organising sports activities for first-year students as part of their induction, and involvement with local primary schools’ summer camp, are particularly commended as these help to develop leadership skills and self-confidence among students as well as strengthening links with the local community. The provision of these activities is also in keeping with the stated aims of TY in the school, notably with regard to encouraging students to become self-directed learners.
The contribution of the physical education department to general school policies, chiefly in the areas of health and safety, child protection, school educational trips, drug and substance abuse and smoking policy, is also noted. In addition, the physical education department were centrally involved in raising funds for a cardiac defibrillator and, in response to a request from the subject department, management has put plans in place to ensure all staff receive training in the use of this device or basic First Aid training. This level of initiative and input into whole-school and subject planning is highly commended.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in the school was generally very good and students were fully engaged in the learning process. All lessons began promptly and the practice whereby students are allowed to wear their physical education kit for the full school day when they have Physical Education helped to maximise the use of available time. The efficient use of class time was a feature of all lessons and the advance preparation of class materials, prior selection of teams by the teacher and the setting up of equipment while students were making their way to the hall were all of benefit in this regard. Lessons were appropriately paced and thus succeeded in maintaining students’ interest from the outset. It is important that a thorough warm-up takes place at the start of all lessons and that this also includes stretching and mobility exercises. In lessons in which this took place, teachers used the warm-up to elicit information from students as to the names of muscle groups being stretched. In one lesson, students were given the task of leading the warm-up activity and they handled this task very well. It is suggested that this good practice be extended to other lessons, especially those involving senior students.
In keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, teachers routinely recapped on previous learning and outlined the content of the current lesson to students at the start of each lesson. This is considered good practice as it helps students to see learning in Physical Education as a continuous process and helps them to transfer learning from one lesson to another and also to identify concepts that are common to various activities. To further develop this process, it is suggested that lesson objectives, as opposed to lesson content, should be shared with students as this helps them to evaluate their own learning and can encourage them to become self-analytical, reflective performers. This practice will serve as a natural counter-point to the excellent practice observed in all lessons of summarising learning that had taken place at the end of lessons and briefly introducing material to be covered in subsequent lessons.
Appropriate teaching methodologies were used in most classes with a clear, and commendable, differentiation evident between classes involving younger and older students. In this regard, the use of some senior cycle students who had completed a coaching course in volleyball, to assist in the teaching and organisation of the lesson was particularly laudable. These students responded very well to the responsibility given to them and their peers willingly accepted their advice and instruction. The use of peer-to-peer instruction in this manner is highly commendable as it helps to promote greater autonomy in the learning process.
Questioning was generally used very well in lessons with individual and group questioning regularly employed. In a junior cycle volleyball lesson in particular, questioning was very effectively used to recap on previous learning and reinforce key principles of play and the rules of the game. An overuse of closed and lower-order questions was evident in some lessons. It is recommended that higher-order questions, focusing on students’ ability to analyse and evaluate, be used to elicit learning from students from time to time, especially once they have achieved mastery of the basic concepts of activities.
Tasks set had a clear structure in all lessons and exhibited a clear progression in difficulty. This is commended as it allows students with varying levels of competence to achieve success. The successful completion of some tasks often required students to recall information or apply learning from earlier in the lesson or previous lessons. This is considered good practice as it helps to consolidate learning. A lesson in health-related activity, which dealt with nutrition, skilfully used a range of practical activities to support learning about the food pyramid, thereby maintaining high activity levels in an enjoyable activity. In some lessons where students’ activity levels were a little lower, strategies such as the earlier introduction of conditioned games and variation in the structure of some practices were suggested so as to maintain high activity levels. In general students co-operated fully with each other and their teachers and applied themselves conscientiously to the tasks set in a very positive class environment.
The LCA tasks which had been completed showed evidence of very good learning and the rich task approach which had been adopted, involving the students in organising a soccer tournament for first-year students, was very successful. This approach provided the LCA students with a range of learning opportunities whereby they wrote to the principal seeking his permission to organise the event, created teams from the entries received, formed fixture lists, officiated at the matches and recorded the results. This approach is highly commended. The use of digital cameras to take photographs of the activities facilitated excellent presentation of the work as part of the LCA assessment task.
The range of assessment procedures in place in Physical Education is good. Teachers keep a record of students’ attendance and participation in all physical education lessons and these records are used to inform reporting in Physical Education. The main mode of assessment is through informal observation although teaching methodologies employed also seek to increase students’ capacity for self-evaluation. It is considered excellent practice that written reports in Physical Education are sent home on four occasions per year. In these reports teachers include a comment on the overall performance of students during a block of learning. In order to increase the formative nature of these comments it is recommended that the range of available comments be reviewed so that a selection of specific comments is available for Physical Education. The possibility of including some “free text” comments that are not part of the general list of comments should also be explored. Records maintained of subject department planning meetings indicate that the physical education department has already discussed this and intends to address the matter. This is commended. In addition to written reports, physical education teachers attend all parent-teacher meetings and also communicate with parents via students’ personal record books.
In order to further develop assessment in Physical Education in the school it is recommended that the physical education department work towards identifying descriptors of performance levels that can be used to formally assess students’ learning in practical activities. The proactive physical education department in the school is well placed to collaborate in the production of such descriptors and these could then be used to carry out one formal assessment of practical performance per year for each student. This should provide much useful information to students and their parents and could be very useful in informing future planning activities in Physical Education as it may give the department a useful insight into how students are achieving in various aspects of the physical education curriculum.
As part of the topics covered in the health-related activity aspect of the JCPE syllabus, students perform some basic fitness tests aimed at giving them an informed insight into their fitness levels in various component areas. Although the range of tests used is generally appropriate, the use of the “bleep test” to assess aerobic capacity should be reconsidered. It is recommended that caution be exercised in the use of any maximal tests, such as the bleep test or twelve-minute run for example, as these tests require students to work close to their physiological limits. It is suggested that sub-maximal tests, such as the step test, be used in place of the bleep test to support learning in the area of cardio-respiratory fitness.
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.
Published, June 2008