An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Physical Education
Ardscoil na mBráithre
Clonmel, County Tipperary
Roll number: 65320J
Date of inspection: 25 January 2008
Date of issue of report: 22 May 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ardscoil na mBráithre, Clonmel, 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 board of management was given the opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix to this report.
Physical Education has a very good status in Ardscoil na mBráithre and the school is rightly proud of its long tradition of sporting excellence and achievement. Physical activity is effectively promoted by management and staff and the many photographs of students’ achievements, both in individual and team activities, which decorate the walls of almost every corridor in the school, serve to highlight this fact.
The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are good, and consist of a full-sized physical education hall and a large grass pitch. The hall was built in 1991 through school fundraising activities and contributions, reflecting the value which the school has traditionally placed on providing a quality physical education experience for students. Short-term difficulties relating to staff parking have necessitated the use of the outdoor basketball court as a parking area at the moment. The school is commended for securing substantial funding from the Department of Education and Science to be used for the building of a new, enclosed basketball court area which will alleviate the current difficulty. In addition to the school’s on-site facilities the school also makes use of locally available facilities from time to time to offer certain activities, particularly to Transition Year (TY). All necessary equipment and materials are provided for the delivery of Physical Education in the school and funding for the purchase of equipment is made available annually following written submissions from subject departments to the board of management.
The school has three qualified teachers of Physical Education on staff and a number of other teachers, who do not hold physical education teaching qualifications, are also involved in the delivery of the subject at senior cycle. The system that obtains in the school is that these teachers, many of whom hold coaching qualifications in particular areas and all of whom have a background in sport and physical activity, are timetabled to take Physical Education at a time when at least one of the school’s qualified physical education teachers is timetabled concurrently. This arrangement enables the teachers who do not hold physical education teaching qualifications to teach particular topics in which they have expertise. Thus, fifth-year and sixth-year students who opt to do basketball, rugby or soccer, for example, for a block of activity, are taken by a teacher who has considerable knowledge and expertise in these areas.
Although very good health and safety practices were followed in lessons observed during the inspection, issues regarding the breadth of subject knowledge of teachers without physical education teaching qualifications and the health and safety implications of their deployment cannot be ignored. These teachers cannot be expected to have the same depth of knowledge and understanding of Physical Education as fully qualified teachers of the subject would be expected to have. It is recommended, therefore, that all physical education lessons should be taken by teachers with appropriate qualifications recognised by the Department of Education and Science. Should this not be possible in the short term, due to timetabling or other difficulties, the structures currently in place regarding the precise role of the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications should be formalised and documented. Thus, it should be made clear that, in the case of a lesson being taken concurrently by teachers with and without physical education teaching qualifications, the qualified physical education teachers are the people in overall charge of the lesson. The role of the other teachers, consequently, should be to provide instruction in line with clear guidelines which have been established and agreed in consultation with the physical education teachers and which have the approval of school management. Aspects which should be collaboratively planned in this regard include details of the areas which the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications are to cover and pedagogical guidance as to how lessons should be organised and structured. In addition, the practice which currently obtains whereby the teachers without physical education teaching qualifications only teach senior cycle students and only cover activities with which they are familiar and in which they have some background or expertise, should be clearly documented. Clear health and safety procedures should be agreed between all teachers so as to minimise any potential health and safety risk.
The time allocated to the teaching of Physical Education is a double period, totalling approximately eighty minutes, for all year groups with the exception of TY in which students have a treble period. Although this time allocation is common in many post-primary schools 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. It is recommended that the school work towards the provision of two hours per week of timetabled Physical Education for all students. The allocation of this amount of time can be expected to impact positively on many aspects of students’ lives apart from their overall health and fitness and attitudes to physical activity. This has been observed in the England, for example, where the Physical Education School Sports and Club Links (PESSCL) strategy has led to reductions in absenteeism, greater engagement from students in the learning process and less discipline problems. The allocation of this amount of time to Physical Education would also allow the school to offer activities which are currently not feasible due to time constraints. The excellent range of activities which the school currently offers in TY is an example of this and includes a residential stay at an outdoor education centre, hill walking, horse riding, aquatics, tennis, circuit training, pitch & putt, martial arts and coaching courses in Gaelic games and soccer. The provision of these activities is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of TY. Management is commended for making two hours available to TY to enable these activities to take place as many of them take place outside the school and could not be offered without this time allocation.
There is a good quality of planning and preparation in Physical Education in the school and subject planning is ongoing as part of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). Management facilitates the planning process by allocating time for at least two formal subject department meetings per year. In addition to these meetings, much useful planning takes place during informal meetings of members of the physical education staff.
Among the key areas dealt with in the subject plan are the aims and objectives of the subject, planning for students with special educational needs, provision for health and safety requirements, assessment and examination procedures, record keeping and reporting procedures, teacher continuing professional development and curriculum content. Work completed to date in these areas is commended. Some cross-curricular planning opportunities are also documented including opportunities for collaboration between the physical education department and the biology, geography, science and computer departments.
The school is commended for its involvement in the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education (JCPE) syllabus as this has the capacity to greatly benefit students by bringing a clear structure and focus to Physical Education at junior cycle. The range of activities planned as part of the syllabus is broadly in line with syllabus requirements although a slight over emphasis on games was observed. The school’s awareness of this, and in particular plans to remedy the lack of provision for adventure activities, is noted and commended. Management has facilitated the attendance of physical education teachers at continuing professional development (CPD) training offered as part of the implementation of the JCPE syllabus and management further supports teachers’ professional development by paying for membership of the relevant subject association for one member of the physical education teaching staff.
It is recommended that, as part of the next stage of the planning process, the focus should move toward areas such as teaching methodologies that are appropriate to the delivery of Physical Education in the school. With this in mind, it is recommended that the use of rich task methodologies, which is being advocated as part of the implementation of the Junior Cycle Physical Education syllabus, be implemented and further expanded into senior cycle. The practice which the school employs at present, whereby students in fifth-year and sixth-year are allowed considerable latitude in opting for particular activities, is regarded as appropriate to their age and maturity and is particularly suited to the use of a rich task approach. Thus, if students opted, for example, to do an eight-week programme of soccer, they might be asked to learn the main skills, rules and tactics of the game and then organise and officiate at a mini-tournament involving all class members, or those who had opted for this topic at senior cycle. Students would have responsibility for volunteering for different roles based on their talents and interests, thus emphasising the possibility of participating through many different avenues. The teacher would then adopt the role of facilitator of this learning experience and would have a key role in guiding students during the activity and focusing their self-evaluation at the end of each lesson and at the end of the block of work. Providing such opportunities enables students to acquire higher order skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation and can be a highly fulfilling educational experience. It also provides opportunities for high activity levels among all students and enables those who are injured or who cannot physically participate in a lesson to become meaningfully involved in the lesson in other ways, whether as timekeeper, scorekeeper, coach, referee or through some other officiating role. Opportunities which are currently provided for TY students to assist in the organisation of the school sports day are commended in this regard and provide a foundation which can be further developed by eventually giving these students overall responsibility for the running of sports day.
There is a very healthy culture of involvement, both by staff and students, in extracurricular physical activities in the school with Gaelic football, soccer, rugby, hurling, racquet sports, golf, pitch & putt, swimming and athletics the main areas of involvement. In some of these areas, notably basketball, rugby, soccer and Gaelic games, lunchtime leagues have been organised. The school’s extracurricular programme aims, among other things, to cater for the needs of as many students as possible. A commendable example of how the school puts this into practice, apart from the breadth of activities outlined above, is the Fitness for Life programme which is offered as an extracurricular activity to students who are not interested in the more traditional team games. The school is applauded for this venture which, while in keeping with the school’s caring ethos in looking after the needs of each student, also delivers a key message to students that health and fitness is something that is important to all, not just to those who are interested in sport. The selfless commitment of teachers in providing the range of activities on offer to students is greatly valued by management and a post of responsibility has been allocated to the role of co-ordinator of extracurricular activities. The level of provision is highly commended as involvement in these activities can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience and can provide the basis for lifelong participation in sport and physical activity for many students.
The quality of teaching and learning observed during the inspection was good. Students were vigorously engaged in a range of activities, all of which ensured that they were challenged physically and mentally to perform to the best of their ability.
Lessons began with warm-up activities which were always enjoyable, vigorous and closely related to the topic of the lesson. Stretching exercises were performed conscientiously by students and, in some lessons, were led by students. The quality of performance of these stretching exercises indicated a clear familiarity with the good practice of performing a thorough warm-up before strenuous activity. Similar good practices were observed during the cool-down phase at the end of lessons. Recapping was purposefully used by teachers during this phase of lessons to reinforce learning and, in many cases, to create a link with material to be covered in future lessons. This is considered very good practice.
Drills and practices which were organised as part of lessons observed in Gaelic football, soccer and rugby were very well structured and had clear aims and objectives. Explanations from teachers were clear and focused students’ attention on the key technical aspects of the skill that was being developed. Teachers offered regular encouragement and affirmation of students’ efforts and were quick to interrupt and re-focus a drill or practice if it appeared to be breaking down or if the main learning objective was not being achieved. It is recommended that conditioned games form part of all games lesson so that students have the opportunity to apply learning from the skills phase of the lesson in a context that places a premium on the correct execution of the skill just learned. Where this took place it was an obvious benefit to students’ learning. The conditioning of games can also be used to challenge the more capable or skilful students, to provide some advantages to the less capable students and to reduce the advantages which physically stronger student have during invasion games. This is particularly important when physical contact drills or games are taking place involving students of different developmental ages and levels of physical maturity. In as much as possible, students should be closely matched in terms of their physical size and strength when these activities are taking place.
Learning through purposeful activity was at the core of all lessons. Teachers helped to ensure this through a range of strategies, all of which helped to maintain students’ engagement and interest in the learning process. Most prominent of these strategies was the skilful use of questioning which was employed. Group and individual questioning helped to reinforce learning and to challenge students to recall previous learning and to apply this learning to the activity or skill being covered. Thus, teachers routinely questioned students at the start of the lesson as to the material that had been covered in previous lessons and created a natural link to the current lesson by explaining how this learning would be further developed. This is considered very good practice as it helps students to see each lesson as part of an integrated whole. Where practice was optimum, teachers also gave students information as to the lesson objectives. This practice is encouraged as it is in keeping with the principles of assessment for learning and helps students to become self-analytical and, in time, should help them to become more reflective performers. The process of student reflection was greatly aided by frequent questioning by teachers concerning aspects of skill practices or games that students found difficult or easy and by giving students the opportunity to view and comment on the performances of their peers. Further probing questions from teachers required students to analyse why certain practices or drills were more difficult than others and students’ responses to these questions revealed a good level of understanding. The timing and frequency of these questions was skilfully handled, such that it did not detract unduly form high activity levels among students and did not interrupt the natural flow of lessons.
Discipline was firm in all lessons and students co-operated well with each other and their teachers. Students who were unable to participate in lessons, due to injury or illness for example, assisted willingly in the setting up and storing of class materials and were involved in setting up grids and other tasks which helped lessons operate smoothly.
The main modes of assessment used to evaluate students’ learning are informal questioning and observation during physical education lessons. Teachers routinely call a class roll at the start of each lesson and also take note of students who are unable to participate in lessons. Task sheets such as the performance web and assessment wheel are occasionally used at junior cycles. All of these items are used to inform reporting in Physical Education which takes place through parent-teacher meetings, held once per year, and through written reporting at Christmas and summer. The inclusion of Physical Education as part of these reports is commended although the range of comments available for Physical Education is too limited. The school is aware of this shortcoming and plans to remedy the situation. It is recommended that physical education teachers be provided with the facility to include an open comment on the progress and learning of students in Physical Education in order to improve the formative nature of reports. If this cannot be achieved, the range of comments available to teachers should be substantially increased from the present five comments so that teachers can provide focused, relevant feedback to each individual student.
The physical education department regularly uses a range of fitness tests in physical education lessons, aimed at evaluating students’ performances on a variety of components of fitness such as speed, agility, power and endurance. The physical education department is aware of the desirability of avoiding the use of fitness tests as a competitive measure of student performance or achievement and, with this in mind, uses the tests to provide information to students on their changing physical capacities as they mature and develop. This is regarded as educationally valid as long as the focus remains educational. Care must be taken to make sure that these tests do not become overly competitive, as research indicates that physical education activities that emphasise co-operation rather than competition are more successful in maintaining lifelong involvement in physical activity. It is recommended that caution be exercised in the use of maximal tests, such as the bleep test, however, as this test requires 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.
It is also suggested that, as part of the long term development of assessment procedures in the school, the physical education department should also consider developing descriptors of achievement levels for practical performances in Physical Education. These could be used as part of an assessment of practical performance which could then take place for all students, ideally at least once per year. The present gymnastics displays in which students engage after a block of learning and the final lesson of a unit of rugby observed as part of the inspection are examples of the type of event that can be developed into a formal assessment event where students demonstrate learning over a unit 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 at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
School Response to the Report
Submitted by the Board of Management
Inspection Report School Response Form
Area 1 Observations on the content of the Inspection Report
The School Authorities welcome the report on the quality of teaching and learning in Physical Education and the recognition of the very healthy culture of extracurricular activities in the school.
The Board welcomes the acknowledgement of the very good, well maintained facilities for the teaching of PE in the school and compliments the PE teachers on their excellent work.
The Board believes that it will be a major challenge to employ additional qualified PE staff unless the pupil teacher ratio is reduced or additional teaching hours for the teaching of PE are sanctioned by the DES.
The Board would also point out that PE is timetabled taking account of the restrictions of the timetable, the availability of facilities and resources and the wishes of all the educational partners within the school.