An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Coláiste na Toirbhirte,
Bandon, County Cork
Roll number: 62061T
Date of inspection: 28 April 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Coláiste na Toirbhirte, Bandon, 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 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.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education in the school are very good. A bright, spacious physical education hall is the main facility used for most physical education lessons with the school’s pitches and tennis courts also being used as required. The well-maintained grounds of the school are used to good effect when activities such as orienteering are being covered and recent work which has been carried out in mapping the school grounds is highly commended as it allows the physical education department to cover these activities on site. The physical education equipment room is very well stocked with all materials necessary to provide a comprehensive curriculum in Physical Education. It is considered good practice that the physical education department has considerable discretion in how it spends funds that are made available by management for the purchase of necessary materials and equipment. Management is commended for its obvious commitment to the subject in providing sufficient funding to meet the department’s needs and for the recognition which is afforded to the subject generally within the school. The payment of membership fees for the subject association by management for both physical education teachers is further testament to this.
The timetabled allocation to Physical Education is a standard double period, totalling just less than eighty minutes, to all classes. While this provision is not uncommon in many post-primary schools, it falls short of the two hours per student per week recommended in the Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, 2004-2005 and the school is encouraged to work towards this level of provision. The fact that a only a single period, rotating between Physical Education, Religious Education, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Guidance, is available at sixth year is something that the school is strongly encouraged to address if at all possible, as reducing the amount of Physical Education available to students in sixth year can, inadvertently, create the impression that participation in exercise and physical activity is something that should be reduced as they are preparing for important examinations. The recommendations of the National Task Force on Obesity report, 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 teenage girls is giving cause for concern (Consultations with Teenage Girls On Being and Getting Active – Health Promotion Department, North Western Health Board) schools should try to create a positive attitude towards physical activity among girls in their late teens and encourage continued participation in physical activity. While this positive attitude to Physical Education has been successfully created in Coláiste na Toirbhirte, a tribute to the ongoing work of the physical education department and school management, and while the school’s programme of extracurricular sport goes some way to addressing the timetabling shortfall, the school is, nonetheless encouraged to provide timetabled lessons for students in sixth year in accordance with Department of Education and Science recommendations.
Physical Education is being delivered in the school by two physical education teachers both of whom bring a wealth of experience to their roles and deserve commendation for the creation of a vibrant subject department which is at the core of many areas of school life. As it is essential that all teachers are appropriately qualified to teach the subjects which they are teaching (Department of Education and Science circular 0124/2006 and 16/2008 refer) clarification should be sought from the Teaching Council regarding the appropriateness of the qualifications of one of the school’s physical education teachers to teach the subject. If any shortcomings in training or qualifications are subsequently identified these should then be addressed.
The use of external personnel in delivering some aspects of the physical education programme is commended and the involvement of these people is carefully managed by the school so that the activities being delivered are consistent with the overall aims of Physical Education in the school. External personnel involved in the delivery of modules of self-defence and Pilates are being very effectively deployed in this regard in delivering activities in which the school’s physical education teachers lack specific expertise. This is commended as it enables the school to provide additional breadth in the physical education programme and to provide activities which are in line with students’ interests.
The school is commended for its provision with regard to students with special educational needs whereby these students are fully included in all physical education lessons as much as their disability will allow. It is noted that activities are routinely modified so as to maximise the level of involvement of these students and to allow them to benefit from physical education lessons to the greatest possible extent.
The quality of planning and preparation observed during this inspection was excellent. Very detailed planning has taken place and the philosophy underpinning planning activities is commended, as students’ welfare is to the fore at all times. The provision of approximately forty minutes per month by management for the physical education department to formally engage in planning activities is commended, although it is acknowledged that much useful planning takes place through informal contact between teachers. Extensive planning activities have taken place in line with the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) and a thorough, well-considered physical education plan has been formulated in line with SDPI guidelines. Detailed planning for four separate physical education syllabuses and programmes, the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus, senior cycle Physical Education, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) Physical Education and Transition Year (TY) Physical Education, has been undertaken and activities planned are in line with the requirements of these syllabuses. Very detailed schemes of work have also been produced for each year group and an extensive range of syllabus, reference and other resource material has been compiled by the physical education department. The department also has access to ICT equipment such as a computer and printer, DVD player, VCR and camera.
Some interesting and novel activities are provided in TY, in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the TY programme. Among these are opportunities to participate in orienteering, hill walking, outdoor pursuits, self defence and Pilates, the latter activity having proven so popular that the school provides modules of it in fifth year also. The fact that sixth-year students are given a free choice in deciding in which activities they become involved during physical education lessons is regarded as an appropriate acknowledgement of their maturity and right to make informed physical activity choices. Cross-curricular planning has taken place involving the physical education department the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) department in structuring the involvement of talks on topics such as healthy eating. Other cross-curricular collaborations involve the physical education department and the music, Irish, English, German, science, geography, ICT, home economics and art departments. Such efforts at cross-curricular planning are commended.
A good range of extracurricular activities is provided in the school and this is funded by contributions from parents which help to pay for coaching, transport and other costs associated with the organisation of the various activities. A flat fee is charged to first-year students for all activities and a fee per activity is charged to students in other years. Among the activities which are provided, basketball, camógie, soccer, tennis and hockey are among the most popular. The philosophy underpinning the school’s provision of these activities in striving to facilitate students’ involvement as participants, coaches and in officiating, as well as helping them to foster a sense of achievement and pride in themselves and their school is commended. Management is commended for promoting the involvement of students in extracurricular sport and physical activity, clearly evident in the many photographs highlighting sporting successes and achievements of Coláiste na Toirbhirte students which decorate the walls of many corridors throughout the school.
The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the JCPE syllabus and teachers have been facilitated to attend continuing professional development provided by the Department of Education and Science in connection with the implementation of the syllabus. The range of activities planned is in line with syllabus requirements with good breadth and balance being achieved. The only activity that the school is not able to provide at present is aquatics and the school is encouraged to keep this under review in case access can be gained to any local swimming pool that may become available for use.
It is recommended that the school plan for the increased use of rich task methodologies at senior cycle with a view to providing students with additional opportunities to take increased responsibility for their own learning and opportunities to engage in self-directed learning. The excellent work in which fifth-year students are currently engaged, whereby they organise a mini-sports day for first-year and second-year students and evaluate their own involvement in the organising of this activity, is an example of how such an approach can be successfully employed. The further extension of this approach to involve students in taking increased responsibility for organising activities in their own physical education lessons is therefore suggested.
Team-teaching activities in which TY students are involved are particularly commendable. As part of their TY physical education programme, students are required to teach a topic, in groups of three, to junior cycle students. They are provided with a template by their teachers and are required to research a particular topic prior to teaching it to students. The students have to plan and carry out this task collaboratively and are graded as a group by their teachers in the performance of the task. A certificate indicating satisfactory completion of this task is provided to each student and this is added to their portfolio of achievement as part of TY. The provision of such interesting and innovative learning opportunities to students is highly commended. Activities in which some fifth-year students have already participated, which involved researching the rules for ‘Ultimate Frisbee’ as part of a games for understanding approach, are highly commended and could also be regarded as a natural entry point for additional ‘rich task’ work in senior cycle Physical Education.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was very good. An excellent rapport was in evidence between teachers and students, and students took to all tasks with enthusiasm and good humour. A purposeful range of well-structured drills, practices and tasks were set in all lessons and these helped to maintain high levels of student engagement.
Excellent class management strategies were in place throughout, with students attending class promptly and assisting, often without being asked to do so, in the setting up and storing of equipment used in lessons. Classes always began with a roll call and the excellent practice of outlining lesson objectives during the warm-up phase, which was noted in all lessons, ensured students had a clear idea of the material that was to be covered and the desired learning outcomes. This practice is commended and research indicates that it can be highly motivational for students, in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning. The practice of revisiting learning outcomes at the end of the lesson during the cool-down phase, which again was a feature of all lessons, served as a natural counter-point to this as it helped to remind students of the material covered and to consolidate learning.
A lesson on Pilates involving senior cycle students was expertly delivered by an external coach and the health related fitness and physiological detail provided during this lesson ensured a very rounded learning experience for students where learning went far beyond the performance of various Pilates exercises. Thus the excellent practice of outlining the names of the various muscle groups that were being exercised, using prepared signs and other material displayed on the wall, helped to ensure consistency between learning in this activity and other learning in Physical Education. Questioning strategies employed in this, and other lessons also helped to engage students and provide them with the physiological basis for performing certain exercises and greatly assisted students in understanding the physical and health benefits of these activities. A well-planned lesson on orienteering involved students in performing a range of tasks that required them to apply learning from the current lesson and previous lessons. In this regard, students demonstrated a very good ability to recall learning from previous lessons. The clear progression in difficulty which the tasks set by the teacher exhibited allowed all students to achieve success in performing the more basic tasks while challenging the more able students to carry out more advanced tasks. Opportunities which were provided in this lesson for students to work in small groups and in pairs were particularly impressive in engaging students and the excellent opportunities which were provided for them to reflect, evaluate and comment on their own and others’ performances are deserving of high praise. A lesson on athletics similarly allowed students opportunities to work in small groups and in pairs and allowed students ample time to acquire the skill of baton-changing before applying this skill in a more competitive situation. Teacher demonstrations were clear and concise and were clearly understood by students. Students achieved very well in this activity, as in all other physical education lessons.
A warm, friendly atmosphere was evident in all lessons and students co-operated fully with each other and their teachers. Regular, well-merited affirmation was provided by teachers throughout all lessons and students responded well to this by making an excellent effort.
Excellent structures are in place for the assessment and reporting of students’ learning in Physical Education. Records are maintained of attendance and participation in all physical education lessons and reports are sent home at Christmas and summer. It is considered good practice that the physical education department have the facility to make an individual comment on students’ progress in these reports as such formative comment can be highly motivational for students. The physical education teachers also attend all parent-teacher meetings.
The excellent practice of canvassing students’ views, via questionnaires, regarding activities completed in TY and fifth year is highly commended and is indicative of a subject department which is committed to providing a high-quality educational experience for students. Also, the practices of video recording first-year and second-year gymnastics displays, and dance displays in second year and third year, to involve students in self-analysis is highly commended. These strategies, together with the eliciting of written responses from students to their experiences in other activities such as tennis and basketball, are very useful as a means of engaging students and helping them to evaluate their own learning.
As a future development of the range of assessment strategies being used in the school, it is recommended that the physical education department work towards carrying out formal assessments of students’ practical performances, perhaps once per year, at the end of a particular block of learning. Such a practical assessment event could provide valuable information to students and their parents as to their learning and achievement in Physical Education as attainment could be linked to descriptors of performance levels in particular activities.
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