An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

Department of Education and Science


Subject Inspection of Physical Education



Presentation College

Askea,  Carlow

Roll number: 61141M


Date of inspection: 21 January 2009






Subject inspection report

Subject provision and whole school support

Planning and preparation

Teaching and learning


Summary of main findings and recommendations







Subject inspection report


This report has been written following a subject inspection in Presentation College, Askea, 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 two days 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


It is commendable that all students attending Presentation Secondary School have access to Physical Education, which is a core subject on the school’s curriculum. The timetable provision of one double period per week for all class groups is adequate to provide for a comprehensive physical education programme. However, the overall time allocation for the subject is below the two hours per week recommended in the Department of Education and Science (DES), Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools. Management is encouraged to work towards providing the subject in line with these recommendations. The recent addition of the subject on the curriculum for sixth-year students is particularly welcome as it helps to reinforce the concept that regular physical activity is an important component of a healthy balanced lifestyle. The time allocation for students following the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) year one, who study the Leisure and Recreation course, is in line with the recommended guidelines. LCA year two students are integrated as a class group with students following the established Leaving Certificate and follow a common programme. Teachers’ report that this arrangement is working well and is of good benefit to the students involved.  


The physical education department presently consists of six teachers, two of whom are graduates of the subject. The four non-qualified Physical Education teachers each take a small number of classes. There may be a health and safety risk associated with the timetabling of non-Physical Education teachers to take lessons in the subject. In a limited number of cases, some of these class groups are timetabled concurrently with one of the qualified Physical Education teachers, which facilitates team-teaching arrangements. This arrangement may help to alleviate some of the health and safety risks associated with the delivery of organised physical activities and ensure that these students are provided with the full range of planned activities and learning experiences. It is acknowledged that the non-qualified Physical Education teachers make a valuable contribution to the promotion of physical activity and involvement in sport amongst the students. It is also commendable that these teachers do not attempt to cover any activity with which they are unfamiliar and only supervise and coach activities with which they have some background experience. However, the present deployment situation results in inconsistencies in the delivery of the programme and in the quality of tuition. It is recommended, to promote best practice and to ensure quality and consistency of delivery, that all timetabled lessons in Physical Education are taken by the qualified Physical Education teachers.


Management actively supports the continuing professional development of staff and the level of engagement by the Physical Education teachers in professional development courses, both those provided by DES and the various national governing bodies (NGBs), is commended. The qualified Physical Education teachers are also members of the Physical Education Association of Ireland (PEAI), which is another valuable mechanism to promote their professional development. Additionally, the regular accommodation of undergraduate students undertaking teaching practice in Physical Education is a positive initiative. The mentoring of trainee teachers can play a positive role in the development of collaborative teaching and stimulate reflection on the quality of teaching and learning within the subject department.


The range of facilities available to support the delivery of the physical education and extra-curricular programmes are of a high quality. A large new sports hall, modern fitness suite, dressing rooms and storerooms have been provided by the DES as part of the school’s recent extension. In addition, the school has a large outdoor tarmac hard court area that hosts five basketball courts and three tennis courts and which have recently been resurfaced. The school also has a large grass soccer pitch and has access to two large community Gaelic games pitches adjacent to the school. All of these facilities are well maintained. The storerooms are fully equipped to deliver most strands of the syllabus. The construction studies department in the school is to be highly commended for assisting in the supply and fixing of shelving and equipment boxes, which greatly adds to the accessibility and organisation of the storeroom. The physical education department are involved in all aspects of health and safety related to their area. It is commendable that several members of staff have undertaken first-aid training, including the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED), which was donated to the school by a local charity trust. 


A budget system operates for the purchase of replacement or additional equipment and resources to support the delivery of the physical education programme. This was reported to be working well and was sufficient to cover the running costs of the subject department. Broadband access is available in the sports hall and fitness suite and access to computers, digital video and still cameras is available to the physical education department on request. The balcony area hosts the extensive fitness suite and there is also room for additional classroom space, if required. The walls of the fitness suite display a large range of anatomical and exercise charts and posters, which provide a valuable reference for students to inform their physical activity and nutritional habits, fitness programme design and the technical execution of a range of exercises.


Extra-curricular sport is well established and supported in the school. A broad range of sports are provided for students including athletics, basketball, camógie, Gaelic football, hurling, rugby and soccer. The achievement of some of the school’s teams at both regional and national level reflects the dedication and commitment of the students and their teachers to the pursuit of success. The display of team and individual photographs along the sports hall corridor provides tangible evidence of the achievements and enjoyment gained from the provision of these activities. A significant number of staff members are involved in organising and coaching the variety of teams and the contribution these teachers make to students’ positive sporting experiences cannot be underestimated and is highly commended.


Whole school physical activity initiatives, organised by the physical education department, such as the Spar Mile Challenge and involvement in the Active Schools Week are highly commended. The continued development of a whole school approach to promoting participation in regular physical activity is encouraged.


Planning and preparation


Formal subject department planning meetings are facilitated by management at least once per term and the systematic recording of the proceedings of these meetings is good practice. A review of the minutes of formal meetings provides a useful record of the items discussed, decisions made and the delegation of tasks. These meetings provide good opportunities for teachers to discuss the content, organisation and delivery of the physical education programme. Whilst there is an identified subject co-ordinator, the sharing of this role amongst the qualified Physical Education teachers is indicative of their collegiality. The availability of the new facilities, coupled with a commitment to professional development, has created significant impetus and enthusiasm within the physical education department. This has resulted in a more expansive programme of work, which has had a significantly positive effect on the levels of student participation. It is highly commendable that the physical education department is continuously reflecting on the content or the programme and exploring strategies to improve the quality of provision and level of students’ engagement.


Good progress has been made in subject department planning for Physical Education. There is a detailed subject plan developed for the subject, which follows the framework promoted by the school development planning initiative (SDPI), and which also includes some elements identified by the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS). All items relevant to the organisation and delivery of the programme are clearly presented in the subject plan. The plan also includes an outline of the programme of work for each year group and schemes of work have been developed for each of the planned activities. Key skills and progressions are identified for all of the activity blocks, which adds depth to the plan. To build on this good work, it is recommended that the schemes of work be expanded to align their content with the key learning outcomes for each module. In this way, each unit of work will identify how students should progress their knowledge and skills in an incremental manner. It is also important that each unit of work reflects on the diversity of teaching and learning methods and resources best suited to enable students to achieve the desired learning outcomes. A review of the website of the JCPESS ( will provide further information and reference documents to support this work.


The qualified Physical Education teachers collaborate to design the programme of activities for all year groups, which is then disseminated to the non-qualified Physical Education teachers involved in teaching the subject. There is a need for greater dialogue amongst all teachers regarding the delivery of the programme, especially in the area of teaching and learning to address items such as best practice in class organisation for each activity block, and the structure of class tasks to optimise student engagement and learning. Such topics should be included as part of future departmental planning meetings.


A review of documentation indicates that each year group is exposed to a wide range of activities. Whilst these activities cover most strands of the syllabus, their duration of four weeks each is quite short. It is recommended that the planned activity blocks be of sufficient duration to allow students to develop the core skills and competencies of the activity, as well as their knowledge and understanding through studying the key principles underlying each activity strand. It is also recommended that the adventure activities strand be included as part of the junior cycle programme. The planned involvement in forthcoming inservice for adventure activities will be valuable in assisting the introduction of this strand.


The LCA Leisure and Recreation programme follows the modules outlined in the syllabus documents. The programme is organised and delivered in an effective manner, whereby students undertake their practical work during their double period lesson and complete their reflections, discussions and theoretical studies during their single period. This arrangement helps to optimise students’ practical experiences whilst also using the available time effectively to consolidate learning. Students’ progress is well planned, with a phased approach to the completion of key assignments. Some of the planned activity modules in Transition Year (TY), such as dance and a number of outdoor education trips help to broaden students experience, knowledge and skills of these lifelong activities. The further expansion of the range of activities offered to TY students should be considered with some element of certification included at the completion of some modules.


Planning for the use of the health and fitness suite is commended. A circuit training fitness programme has been designed for senior students using the facility, which is welcomed. The development of additional programmes at varying levels of intensity, to accommodate differing levels of physical fitness and to provide progressive challenges for students is recommended. These programmes should be cognisant of the principles related to symmetrical muscular development when selecting the range of exercises and their placement.


Some inclusion of digital media has taken place as part of the teaching and learning process in a limited number of cases and the physical education department is aware of the possibility of increasing the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) into the teaching and learning process.  Possible areas for the further use of this strategy should be included in the subject plan, where applicable.


Teaching and learning


Good procedures have been established to ensure that students change into their physical education kit and present quickly for their lessons and assemble in a cordial and safe manner. All lessons observed began with a roll call to record attendance and participation in keeping with good practice. In the lessons visited, the topics taught were badminton, basketball, dance and gymnastics. Teachers were generally well prepared for their lessons and the sports hall was efficiently set-up and equipment was organised, which helped to optimise the time for learning. In one example, the teacher had pre-selected teams, which resulted in students being organised into working groups quickly and with minimal disruption. In another example, students organised their own lesson as part of their assignment and this was executed in an orderly and very efficient manner. This is most welcome practice as it empowers students to take ownership of their learning environment.


There was a varied approach to teaching and learning in the lessons observed. In all cases, teachers worked very hard to ensure that students were actively engaged in the physical activities. Some lessons focused on providing physical activity for students through skill drills and supervised play, whilst other lessons had a clearer learning focus with well structured and progressive tasks. The difference in practice observed in this school is understandable given the lack of formal qualifications on the part of non-qualified Physical Education teachers. One of the challenges in delivering meaningful lessons in Physical Education is to develop students’ capacity to critically analyse their movements against established criteria in a reflective and informed manner. This is one of the essential differences between teaching and training or coaching. The former focuses on the promotion of higher order educational objectives such as application, analysis and evaluation. This advances learning by engaging students in a process of systematic, purposeful reflection that aims to improve their knowledge and understanding, in addition to their skill and performance. Training or coaching is primarily concerned with the execution of drill or tactical instructions where there is a specific, performance-related aim.


Teachers began by introducing the content of the lesson to their students. In some cases, there was good use of directed and global questioning to revise the material from previous lessons and to introduce students to new material. It is recommended that the learning intentions of the lesson and the criteria for success also be shared with students at the outset of all lessons. The whiteboard should be used, when applicable, to present these learning intentions and performance criteria, as this will provide a reference for students throughout their lesson. Establishing clear goals for students at the beginning of lessons will help them to stay focused on the structured tasks that achieve these goals. 


The practical activities of the lessons began with warm-up activities, which is good practice. In most cases these activities were progressive and systematic and in many lessons included stretching activities to promote joint range of motion. It was also good to note that, when questioned by teachers, students knew the names of the main muscle groups being stretched and were able to correctly demonstrate stretching exercises appropriate to the relevant muscle groups. In some cases, the structure and duration of the warm-up activities was not sufficient to achieve the goals of physiological and psychological readiness for engagement in vigorous physical activity, or to promote students learning of this important component of physical activity sessions. To ensure consistency of practice with regards to beginning physical activity sessions and to assist teachers in organising their lessons, it is recommended that a number of general warm-up routines be developed that can be applied to each planned activity. In this way, students will become familiar with the routines and undertake an appropriate warm-up as a matter of course prior to engagement in vigorous physical activity. Once good practice has been established, students should be encouraged to design and lead the warm-up activities applicable to the focused activity. 


Good practice was observed in some lessons when students were actively engaged in well structured and applied tasks with brief but regular demonstrations and question and answer sessions. This helped to develop students’ knowledge and understanding of the key skills and their application to the game or activity. This approach also ensured that students were cognitively involved in the lesson tasks, which helped to promote the development of their analytical and decision making skills. In one instance, students were required to organise a badminton tournament amongst class members. This involved everything from conducting the draw, setting up the courts, umpiring and tabulating the results. The use of independent and self-directed tasks is commendable as students learn to apply their knowledge and skills in a relevant and meaningful manner.


Lessons generally followed a planned structure that aimed to progress students from basic skill acquisition to application in the game or activity specific context. This is a positive approach, as the application of skills in context promotes greater learning and understanding of the focused activity. However, the organisation of the set tasks should be revisited. In some cases, students spent relatively long periods either in passive observation or queuing to practice the focused skill, which led to some becoming disengaged from the learning process. Greater attention should be placed on the organisation of class tasks to keep students focused throughout their lessons. These tasks should promote active participation and learning. Teachers should focus on ensuring that the work to rest ratio is sufficient to avoid queuing or long periods spent in passive observation, thereby optimising students’ opportunities for skill rehearsal. This may involve using additional equipment or organising students into individual, pairs or smaller groups. When teaching invasion games, the conditioning of certain aspects of the game would be beneficial to promote greater student involvement and more focused skill application, as was observed in one case. For example, the stronger players on each team could be instructed not to dribble the ball or that they can only score from outside the zone. Imposing such conditions will have the effect of challenging the ability and skill level of the more able players, whilst also creating greater opportunities for the less skilled players who have no such restrictions imposed on them. Imposing conditions on games aims to increase the application of the focused skill, positional awareness or tactical set-piece, whilst also maximising the involvement and potential for success of all students. Students should also be aware of the key technical points that should be applied to their performance during all tasks, including adherence to the rules and regulations governing the game. This active, analytical and problem-solving approach to learning has been shown to produce higher levels of engagement and student success. A review of the games for understanding approach would prove beneficial to teachers in this regard. A greater range of resources, such as task cards or performance analysis worksheets would also be of assistance to teachers in helping students focus on the successful execution of set tasks and achieving the desired learning outcomes.


Firm classroom management was observed in all lessons and students were affirmed for their efforts in many instances. There were some good examples of a positive atmosphere in the lessons observed and many students made good progress in terms of developing their skill competency. A good example of positive student-teacher rapport was observed in a dance lesson, when the teacher participated in the activities with students, encouraged and affirmed their efforts and engaged positively with them. Similarly in a basketball lesson, the teacher provided encouragement and good technical advice to students to focus on their application in game settings. All of which resulted in observable improvements in performance.


Participation levels were good in most lessons. Whilst some efforts were made to include students who were unable to participate in the physical activities of the lesson, it is recommended that additional strategies and resources be developed to support their greater inclusion. These may include task-specific worksheets, umpiring, videoing and peer-review of key performance indicators. 


Good practice was observed in lessons that concluded with a recap of the main points through questioning of students. This commendable practice should be extended to all lessons as it consolidates learning and sets the focus for future lessons.




Assessment occurs in Physical Education lessons through questioning and observation of students’ participation and engagement in tasks. Teachers maintain detailed records of students’ attendance and participation in their lessons. Reporting to parents regarding students’ progress and attainment in Physical Education occurs through parent-teacher meetings, through the use of the student journal and through additional meetings with parents when required. At present the subject is not included on formal school reports home to parents, which has been identified by the physical education department as an area to be addressed. It is recommended that a comment on students’ progress and attainment be included in these reports for all students.


It is important that teachers can engage with parents and students regarding their learning in addition to their participation rates in Physical Education. To this end, the modes of assessment identified in the subject plan should be implemented over a period of time and strategies to compile and store records of students’ work and achievements be developed. It is recommended that the physical education department refer to the work conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on assessment for learning, as well as the Junior Cycle Physical Education Support Service (JCPESS) for information on the development of student portfolios of learning. The compilation of these portfolios will help to illustrate students’ progress in the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and performance ability.


Assessment in LCA is based on the completion of key assignments and observation of their engagement indicates that they are progressing well in their work.


Summary of main findings and recommendations


The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:


·         Physical Education is a core subject on the school’s curriculum for all students.

·         Physical Education is well organised and resourced in the school, reflecting the commitment to the subject by the physical education department and school management.

·         The facilities available for the teaching of Physical Education are of a high quality and are very well maintained.

·         There is a strong commitment to continuing professional development within the physical education department and members are committed and dedicated to meeting the needs of their students.

·         Good structures are in place to support the subject planning process and a comprehensive plan has been developed to support the delivery of the subject in the school.

·         The TY physical education programme provides students with learning opportunities to engage in some activities not normally available in other years.

·         Some good examples of well structured and progressive lessons were observed that promoted active engagement and independent learning.

·         Teachers have established a good working atmosphere in their lessons and in the majority of lessons students were active, attentive and positively engaged in the class activities.

·         A range of extra-curricular sporting opportunities are provided by the school and regular initiatives strive to promote a whole-school approach towards the development

     of a positive physical activity culture.  


As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:


·         Management is encouraged to work towards increasing the timetable provision for Physical Education in line with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Science.

·         It is recommended that all timetabled lessons in Physical Education be taken by the qualified Physical Education teachers.

·         Schemes of work should be expanded to include the key learning outcomes for each module. A greater range of resources should also be developed over time to support

      learning in each of these activities.

·         The duration of activity blocks for each year group should be extended to provide students with sufficient time to develop their knowledge and skills.

·         Adventure activities should be included as a module on the programme for junior cycle students.

·         Teaching strategies should focus on the purpose and organisation of class tasks, including warm-up, skill acquisition and applied practices to optimise students’ engagement

      and learning in Physical Education.

·         It is recommended that additional strategies and resources be developed to support the greater inclusion of students who are unable to participate in the physical activities of the lessons.

·         Strategies to implement the identified modes of assessment in Physical Education should be developed and Physical Education should form part of written reports to parents.


Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Physical Education and the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.





Published January 2010