An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Saint Brendan’s College
Killarney, County Kerry
Roll number: 61320M
Date of inspection: 29 September 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in St Brendan’s College, Killarney. 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 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.
There are four, fully qualified physical education teachers on the staff of St. Brendan’s College, two of whom are involved in the teaching of the subject in the current year. Junior cycle classes are provided with a double period of Physical Education, totalling approximately eighty minutes per week. Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) students also have a double period of Physical Education during both years of the programme. While the school is commended for the re-introduction of Physical Education into the senior cycle programme in fifth year this year, it is noted that the subject is available only on an optional basis to fifth-year students and is not available at all to sixth-year students. This is regarded as unsatisfactory as it may create the impression that involvement in physical activity is something that students should forego as they prepare for important examinations. As the Department of Education and Science (DES) Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools 2004-2005 recommend that all students should have a minimum of two hours of Physical Education per week, the school is encouraged to revisit timetabling arrangements for Physical Education with a view to increasing the timetabled allocation to all years. While it must be acknowledged that the extensive provision of extracurricular physical activities goes some way towards making up for timetabling shortfalls for some students, and the commitment of many teachers in providing these activities is highly commended, participation in extracurricular physical activity is always voluntary and therefore cannot be guaranteed to involve all students.
The school is situated on spacious, well-maintained grounds and its proximity to Killarney National Park means that it has an excellent outdoor-education resource available to it, something which the physical education department avails of as needed. The department is well resourced and management provides all materials and equipment necessary for the delivery of a comprehensive programme in Physical Education. The main facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education include a full-sized physical education hall, a weights room, outdoor playing pitches and outdoor basketball courts. The school also has plans to build a new physical education hall and is commended for its initiative in this area as an indication of its ongoing commitment to Physical Education. A climbing wall is also available but, at present, this is only used when an external instructor, who has qualifications and experience in climbing, is available to teach the topic. While the school’s prudent approach to health and safety in this regard is applauded, it is recommended that the school investigate the possibility of allowing one or more of the school’s physical education teachers to gain an appropriate qualification in the area, thus allowing the climbing wall to be used on occasion during physical education lessons as part of an adventure activities module. Other opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) are available to the physical education teachers should they become involved in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus. As the school has both the qualified personnel and facilities available to become involved in the implementation of this syllabus, it is recommended that it does so at the earliest opportunity. While it is acknowledged that the physical education teachers are informally following much of the JCPE programme, formal involvement will also allow the physical education department to benefit from the comprehensive range of support services which are available. Involvement in the local teacher professional network of physical education teachers may also be of benefit to the teachers by allowing them to share ideas with other, locally based, physical education professionals.
A thorough, well-researched plan is in place in the school for Physical Education. This contains detailed schemes of work for all of the topics which are covered during physical education lessons. Modes of assessment and teaching methodologies appropriate to each area of activity have also been documented. This is commended. Despite the fact that, as already mentioned, the school is not formally implementing the JCPE syllabus, the school’s physical education curriculum provides most of the key components of the syllabus. In this regard, the key principles of breadth and balance are being adhered to in the range of activities being provided. Particularly commendable is the fact that the school makes use of locally available facilities such as the Killarney National Park and lakes in providing some adventure activities and the local public swimming pool in providing aquatics. The use of these facilities allows the school to provide a far greater range of activities than would otherwise be possible.
Cross-curricular planning opportunities, involving the physical education department and the science, geography, music and civic, social and political education (CSPE) departments, have been documented and initiatives such as “Healthy Eating Week” have taken place in the school. Involvement in such collaborative ventures is commended and the physical education department is encouraged to remain open to the possibilities of ongoing collaboration with these and other subject departments as such collaboration can help to deliver key messages to students about a holistic approach to leading a healthy lifestyle.
Although the quality of planning in the physical education department is good, some increased formality to planning structures is recommended. The appointment of a subject co-ordinator, rotating periodically between the school’s physical education teachers, is recommended as a first step in this process. Records of key decisions taken at physical education department meetings should be maintained as well as records of meetings between the physical education department and school management or teachers involved in providing extracurricular physical activity. The maintenance of such records can be very useful as a means of co-ordinating action plans for the medium-term and long-term development of the subject in the school.
Individual lessons observed benefited from thoughtful, insightful planning. All necessary resource materials were available for each lesson and these resources were used in a purposeful manner which greatly assisted the learning process. In some lessons detailed lesson plans had been prepared reflecting a considerable amount of thought and effort on the part of the teacher.
The school’s main area of extracurricular sporting involvement is in Gaelic football and the photographs on the school’s corridors of the many school teams and past pupils who have achieved provincial and all-Ireland success is testimony to the proud tradition that the school boasts in this area. It is considered appropriate that the school should continue to promote Gaelic football as part of its essential ethos and tradition. Notwithstanding the prominent position which Gaelic football holds in the school, other activities such as hurling, soccer, rugby, athletics, basketball, golf and squash are also provided. Such is the healthy status which extracurricular sport has in the school, and such is the extensive range of involvement from both teachers and students, that a special duties post of responsibility has been assigned to the role of sports co-ordinator. The person who holds this post has an extensive range of duties which are aimed at bringing a clear structure to, and ensuring the smooth running of, all extracurricular sporting activities in the school and ensuring their promotion both inside and outside the school. This is clearly having a very positive impact.
A sports policy has also been produced which acknowledges the contribution which sport makes to the physical, social and psychological development of students. It deals with the details of how sport is organised in the school and outlines the school’s expectations as to students’ behaviour when representing the school in any sporting endeavour. It is considered good practice that an annual review of the school’s sporting involvement, under clearly defined headings, is included as part of the policy.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was very good, with lessons benefiting from thorough planning and preparation from the teacher. Lessons always began with a roll call and this was followed by a thorough warm-up which achieved its purpose in getting students physically and mentally prepared for more vigorous physical activity. Students performed stretching and mobility exercises correctly during this phase of the lesson and some opportunities were provided for students to become involved in leading the activity through counting aloud the required number of seconds to hold a stretch. This phase of the lesson presents some opportunity for further student-led involvement and, as learning progresses and competency improves, students can be asked to design and lead warm-up activities from week to week.
The quality of instruction and explanation delivered by teachers was excellent, with clear and concise demonstration being used to help students to focus on the key points of skills that were being learned. Students participated enthusiastically in all lessons and worked well in their application to tasks set by the teacher. These tasks were carefully selected, contained sufficient variety to maintain students’ interest and showed a clear progression in difficulty. Good opportunities were provided for students to apply learning from earlier in each lesson, or from previous lessons, and the use of conditioned games during lessons on soccer and Gaelic football was particularly successful in reinforcing learning. Students demonstrated a good level of knowledge in response to both questioning from the teacher and the inspector. Good affirmation of students’ efforts was provided by the teacher and the overall classroom atmosphere was relaxed but business-like.
The further integration of assessment for learning in the teaching and learning of Physical Education in the school is recommended as an area for development. The very useful project in which the school engaged last year, entitled “The Learning School – A Project on Assessment for Learning” is recommended as a very useful template for this process. The sharing of lesson content at the start of lessons was a noticeable feature of all lessons. While this is commended as an effective method of motivating students, it is recommended that the learning objectives be also shared with students at this time. This practice can be very useful in helping students to become more analytical and reflective performers and can empower students to make judgements about their own learning and that of their peers. The excellent practice, which was seen in all lessons, of recapping on learning at the end of lessons, and in some cases of recapping on learning aims after each drill or practice had been completed, should serve as a natural complement to this process. Opportunities to further integrate the use of ICT into teaching and learning, perhaps through the use of digital video or stills cameras and through the use of computers, could also be considered.
The modes of assessment and reporting in the school are very good. The physical education plan outlines specific modes of assessment for each topic covered in the physical education curriculum in the school. This is very good practice and is highly commended. Theory tests have been designed to assess students’ learning in all aspects of the school’s physical education curriculum. As a further development of this practice, it is recommended that a practical assessment event be scheduled at least once per year for all students. In keeping with the principles of assessment for learning, performance descriptors for each level of performance should be shared with students in advance of such an event. This can provide much useful information to students on their learning in physical education lessons and can help to reinforce and validate the learning which was clearly evident in each of the physical education lessons observed.
Records of students’ attendance and participation in all physical education lessons are maintained by teachers. These records, together with performances in tests and general effort level in physical education lessons, are used to inform written reporting in Physical Education, which takes place four times per year. The fact that teachers can include a general comment for each student as part of these reports is commended as this allows the teachers to make a formative comment, specific to the needs of each student. Such comments are very useful as they can provide focused information on each student’s strengths and can provide valuable information on areas for development. In this regard, the good practice of the physical education teachers attending all parent-teacher meetings is commended, as much valuable information can be delivered to parents at these forums.
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, January 2009