An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Saint Mac Dara’s Community College

Templeogue, Dublin 6W

Roll number: 70260V


Date of inspection: 10 April 2008





Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations




Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Physical Education


Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in St. MacDara’s Community College. 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, examined students’ work, 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.


Subject provision and whole school support


Physical Education is a core subject on the curriculum for all first, second, Transition Year (TY) and fifth-year class groups in St. MacDara’s Community College. Each of these class groups receives one double period of Physical Education per week. The subject is not timetabled for third-year classes; a situation that restricts the full implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus, as outlined in circular M15/05. The subject is also not provided for sixth-year students, which is regrettable. It is acknowledged that students who do not receive Physical Education still have access to the extensive extra-curricular sports and physical activities programme, which could potentially meet their weekly physical activity needs. However, these students should be afforded the opportunity, through the formal curriculum, to develop a full and complete understanding of their physical functionality and the factors that underpin engagement in physical activity, exercise and sport. Students in their examination years may inadvertently perceive that physical activity is a low priority for them, as this message is reinforced by the current timetabling arrangements. Therefore, it is recommended that the school review its current provision for Physical Education and work towards providing the subject for all students in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science, Rules & Programmes for Secondary Schools.


The physical education department consists of two teachers who are graduates of the subject. Management is reported to be very supportive of continuing professional development. It is commendable that the teachers have attended in-service for the implementation of the revised junior cycle Physical Education syllabus as well as the “Action for Life” health-related fitness educational resource package. The school has established links with the physical education department of a third-level institution to facilitate undergraduate students to conduct their teaching practice. This is commendable as the mentoring and supervision of these trainee teachers can stimulate self reflection and help to enhance the quality of teaching and learning within the subject department.


The school has a good range of well-maintained facilities to support a comprehensive physical education programme, which include a large sports hall, a school pitch, outdoor basketball hard-court and tennis courts. A balcony area overlooking the sports hall has been converted into a small fitness suite with cardio-vascular and resistance training equipment. This is a very useful facility to engage students in their study of the components of health and performance-related fitness and to learn the correct techniques of using this equipment. The balcony area also acts as a store for students’ physical education workbooks and resource materials to support teaching and learning in the subject. The area is brightly decorated with a number of interesting charts and posters illustrating the benefits of physical activity, components of physical fitness, and specific exercise and nutritional guidelines. The work of the school and teachers in providing this facility and resources is highly commended.


The school is located in close proximity to a number of sports clubs and community amenities that provide access to an Astroturf pitch and a large community park. The sharing of sports facilities through arrangements with the neighbouring sports clubs is applauded, as this synergy ensures that the use of both the clubs’ and the school’s facilities is optimised for the benefit of the students and the community. The good practice of embedding sporting and physical activity pursuits within the students’ local community provides them with valuable exposure to the range of active leisure pursuits possible outside of school.


The storeroom is well stocked with a substantial range of equipment to support all strands of the syllabus. Additional or replacement items of equipment or resources are purchased on a needs basis and it was reported that management is very supportive of all requests. There is good access to information and communication technology (ICT) equipment to support teaching and learning. It is recommended that the planned extension of broadband access to the sports hall be carried out in the near future as this will be a valuable resource for students and teachers. It is commendable that a personal laptop and 3G modem card are being used at present to provide students with access to relevant online resources.


The existing health and safety audit checklist is good practice as it identifies potential hazards and steps taken to minimise the risk of injury. However, the school’s goalposts appeared to be in need of repair or replacement. It is recommended that the school’s goalposts be included in the health and safety audit and be periodically checked for structural integrity, alignment and the absence of sharp protruding objects. Information on the inspection of goalposts can be obtained from the National Standards Association of Ireland or by visiting their website at This will ensure that the school’s goalposts meet the requirements of IS 356 and IS 357.


Support for the extra-curricular physical activities programme is highly commended. The programme aims to encourage students to experience the many health-related, social and psychological benefits of participating in sport and physical activity and to achieve a balanced approach to school, study and their physical activity pursuits. A diverse range of activities are provided including aerobics, athletics, badminton, basketball, camógie, Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and rugby. The school also facilitates students to participate in golf and kayaking. Whilst there are in excess of thirty-three teams representing the school across all of these activities, many students are provided with regular opportunities to experience these activities at a recreational level. This is admirable practice as it caters for those students who may not wish to take part in competitions, but who still wish to accrue the benefits of participation in organised physical activity. A large number of staff is involved in the organisation and coaching of these activities and their contribution is highly commended. An extensive collection of photographs and newspaper clippings of individual athletes, teams and local sports stars are displayed throughout the school, which is very good practice as it affirms students’ achievements and contribution to the sporting life of the school. A past student of the school has represented Ireland at a recent Olympic Games; an achievement the school is justifiably proud of.


Planning and preparation


There has been good engagement in the subject planning process and the allocation by management of formal meeting time for planning is good practice. A collaborative approach is taken to the planning, organisation and delivery of the physical education programme. The physical education teachers also meet informally and support each other in the planning and preparation of resources and facilities for their physical education classes. A template to record the proceedings of subject department planning meetings has been developed but has not yet been used by the physical education department. It is recommended that the proceedings of formal meetings be recorded to retain a record of topics discussed and decisions taken.


The physical education department has adopted the planning frameworks promoted by both the junior cycle Physical Education support service (JCPESS) and the school development planning initiative (SDPI). The planned programme of activities is in line with the syllabus guidelines, although the programme is tailored given that third-year students are not timetabled for Physical Education. It is commendable that the planned programme ensures breadth, balance and relevance to the interests and needs of the students.


A wide range of planning documents has been developed for each module outlining the topics to be covered along with the accompanying support resources for each year group. To build on this good work, it is recommended that the content of the subject planning documents be consolidated and refined into a short, single document that identifies the progression of each module. This will help to provide a quick reference guide to the key concepts, the desired learning outcomes, teaching and learning strategies, resources and possible modes of assessment for each module and topic.


The TY physical education plan includes a broad range of physical activities that builds on students’ experiences in junior cycle. These activities include a residential trip to an outdoor education centre to experience a range of adventure activities, preparation for and participation in an orienteering event, a self-defence module and a certified sports coaching course. These activities promote the development of leadership, social and communication skills and are in keeping with the aims and ethos of Transition Year. The use of outside coaches to assist (under the direction of the physical education teachers) in the delivery of some of these activities is commended. A sports or activity-specific expert can help to provide a greater level of insight and understanding into the focused activity than may otherwise be possible, which can enrich students’ experiences and learning in the Physical Education context.


Cross-curricular planning is documented in the subject plan and good links have been made with the Geography, Science, and Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) departments. The planned annual health promotion week is an admirable initiative that aims to promote balanced nutritional intake and regular engagement in physical activity. This collaborative project between the Home Economics, Physical Education and SPHE departments is highly commendable as it ensures that a whole-school approach is taken to the promotion of students’ health and well-being. A range of activities are planned for the week and are organised and implemented by the TY students as part of their programme, which also provides valuable learning experiences for these students.


Planning for resources including equipment, materials and ICT is well advanced. A clear system is in place for the purchase of replacement and additional resources or equipment and management is reported to be supportive of the physical education department in this regard. A range of worksheets, videos and DVDs has been developed or acquired to support teaching and learning. These are centrally stored to ensure that they can be easily accessed by both teachers and students. It is recommended that the subject department include a long term plan for the acquisition of larger items of equipment, such as digital video recorders or additional gymnastics equipment, which may be achieved on a phased basis.


Teaching and learning


There was a good standard of teaching and learning in Physical Education observed in this school. The topics covered in the lessons were athletics and adventure activities, and there was an exemplary level of prior planning and preparation evidenced for these lessons. The learning intentions, content and direction of the lessons were clearly presented on the whiteboard and shared with students at the outset. In addition, the use of web-based video clips was exemplary practice to set the context for the planned activities and learning tasks. These effective introductory strategies served to provide students with a clear focus for their learning and a visual reference of the criteria on which to base their performance in the selected activities. The selection of these web-based video clips was well researched and appropriate to the aims and content of the lessons. This comprehensive approach to the beginning of lessons clearly promoted students’ full engagement with the class activities and is highly commended.


Following the initial introduction to the lesson, students engaged in a series of warm-up activities, which were related to the focused topic. Best practice was observed when students participated in warm-up activities that gradually increased from low to high intensity. It is recommended that cognisance be given to the lay-out and intensity of the warm-up activities to ensure that students are not prematurely exposed to high-intensity anaerobic activity prior to being in a state of physiological readiness to tolerate such stress. This will help to reduce the risk of injury and delay the onset of fatigue, thus ensuring that students can concentrate sufficiently on the set tasks for the duration of the lesson.


A variety of effective teaching strategies was observed in all lessons, including whole-class teaching, question and answer sessions, teacher and student-led demonstrations, pair and small group work. In all cases, clear instructions and explanations were given to support the correct execution of tasks or exercises. There was good use of questioning in all lessons and this strategy was effective in determining students’ understanding and also in engaging them in movement performance analysis. Students were challenged both physically and cognitively to engage with the key concepts of the activity and this good practice served to promote more in-depth learning. Lessons progressed well, although in some instances a restructuring of the activities would have resulted in a better balance between instruction time, work-to-rest ratios and the actual time spent engaging in the focused activity.


Demonstration was effectively used in all lessons and the key teaching points were clearly highlighted through this strategy. This good practice ensured that students had a number of key performance indicators to apply to their performance and learning. In more complex activities such as learning the movement sequence for the triple jump, clear incremental steps were illustrated to help students to practise and develop their technique. This ensured that the majority of students experienced some element of success and progress. Some students with poor co-ordination would have benefitted from more fundamental activities to help develop the necessary motor-skills. In such cases, it is recommended that a series of differentiated activities be included to allow students’ to be challenged at a level commensurate with their ability.


Students demonstrated a good work ethic and were diligent in their application to the set tasks. Teachers have established a good rapport with their students and regularly affirmed their efforts, which created a positive and secure learning environment. Students who were unable to physically participate in lessons were assigned tasks related to the topic of study. A range of strategies has been documented that may be used to ensure that all students are included in the physical education process. A caring, inclusive and supportive environment was evident in all lessons and this is highly commended.


Time was effectively used at the end of the lessons to consolidate the key learning points and to indicate the content of the next lesson, which is good practice.




Teachers maintain detailed records of students’ participation, engagement and achievement for each class group in Physical Education. Assessment takes place in all Physical Education lessons through question and answer sessions and observation of students’ engagement and progress with the set tasks. A range of formative and summative assessment strategies have been developed by the physical education department including self and peer-assessment, project work, worksheets and reflection as well as written exam papers at the end of selected modules. The physical education department has engaged in considerable reflection regarding the role of assessment to promote learning. St. Mac Dara’s Community College was one of the pilot schools for the assessment for learning in Physical Education project undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The physical education department is highly commended for its proactive approach to assessment.


Home tasks are assigned for each module where students are required to complete assignments related to their class activities. The retention of some of the students’ work in their dedicated workbook and the maintenance of a folder for each class group is very good practice. To enhance the good work already taking place in assessment in Physical Education, it is recommended that the physical education department develop a system whereby students can produce a portfolio of learning. This may include written documents, movement analysis critiques, as well as electronic video clips documenting their progress in the acquisition and application of learned skills.


Physical Education is included in written reports sent to parents twice per year at Christmas and summer. These reports contain a comment based on the students’ level of participation, engagement and achievement in the subject. Physical Education teachers attend parent-teacher meetings, which are held once per year for each year group.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


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 October 2008