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Whole school evaluations are carried out by the Department of Education and Science. Whole school evaluations are used to evaluate, assess and monitor the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the education system (Education Act 1998, section 7 part2). Assessment and evaluation is an important process to improve existing practices and skills. Whole school evaluations give key findings and recommendations for the evaluated school as well as an in-dept look at the planning, provision and teaching and learning. I examined the reports of 5 whole school evaluations, Our Lady's School in Dublin, Presentation Secondary School in Kilkenny, St. Mary's Secondary School in Wexford, Gorey Community School in Wexford and Loreto High School in Dublin.
Out of the 5 schools I examined, 4 of them were all girls' schools with Gorey being the only co-educational post primary school that I examined. All the schools I examined were catered for between 600 and 900 students with the exception of Gorey Community School which had a total of 1544 students. The main findings between the schools were firstly that the quality of teaching was good. In Loreto, Our lady's and Presentation the teaching was described as very good. St. Marys was described as good with some exemplary practices observed and once again Gorey was the exception with the teaching described as satisfactory to very good. Secondly for the 5 schools good planning was identified as being evident throughout the 5 schools. Each school had a broad well balanced and relevant physical education programme. This is important for the development of the students which are participating in the programme. Mary O'Sullivan states that 'teachers have the responsibility to provide a coherent and balanced quality physical education programme for every child in our schools' (O'Sullivan, M. 2007 page 84). Thirdly extra-curricular activities were promoted in each school and there was a good link between P.E. and extra curricular sports. Of particular mention was the "House System" which was noted in Our Lady's School. The "House System" is an innovative way Our Lady's used to motivate students to engage in regular activities and games that support achievement of their house team. A final finding which was evident in each of the schools was the facilities and resources with the exception of time. The resources and facilities in each of the schools were a very good standard and very well maintained.
The main recommendations for each of the schools were about time provisions. Time was described as adequate in the schools. Most of the schools offered double classes for every year and class group. The recommendation in Gorey was that management should ensure that the timetable arrangements adequately support student's meaningful engagement in the subject. Similarly in Presentation and Loreto it was suggested that Management should optimise timetable arrangements for Physical Education in accordance with the recommendations of the Department of Education and Skills. The second recommendation which was clearly evident in each of the school was the specific learning goals for each year group and also assessment of the learning outcomes. It was suggested that the future planning should focus on the identification of specific learning outcomes of each year group and align with the assessment process.
The key issues that emerged from the five Whole School Evaluations were about the timetable arrangements and the learning outcomes for the students. Both of these key issues come into planning aspects for Physical Education. Planning for Physical education is one of the most important aspects to consider for an effective P.E. programme. Time has always been an element which has obstructed the effectiveness of a P.E. programme in the development of the child holistically. NiBhrian Et, Al. (2007) examined the participation levels of Physical Education among a number of countries and found that a Ireland has indeed a lower amount of mandatory minutes of P.E Requirements for primary students. Timetable issues are a constant headache for Principles and management of schools in Ireland. Physical Education in Ireland is limited to 2 periods a week. This is already lower than all the examinable subjects in the leaving and junior cert syllabus. More allocation of time would vastly improve the physical, mental and social benefits associated with P.E. Even with the current time allocation for Physical Education, time is not being used effectively. If schools persist to provide 2 single classes instead of double classes, then precious time will continue to be wasted due to the allocation of changing and shower time. This will seriously impact of the holistic development of the child, as P.E. is one of the few areas where holistic development is present.
Increasing time for P.E. and improvement of timetabling for P.E. can be a huge help to lifelong participation (National Taskforce on Obesity 2005) and participation levels for young females in particular (women in sport report 2004). Increasing time allocation for Physical education in schools and improving the timetable should help increase the benefits associated with Physical education. One suggested way of improving the status of P.E. and therefore the time allocation on P.E. is to make P.E. an examinable subject in the leaving certificate. Improving the status of Physical Education is important and could be a vital way to increase the time and resources. There are a lot of question marks about implementing P.E. as an examinable subject such as how it will be assessed and there is the attitude that unfit people will have a disadvantage. The proposed framework by the NCCA is that P.E. as an examinable subject would be half based on performance and half for a written exam. Making P.E. an examinable subject will create better equality in the leaving cert syllabus. Currently we have exams for Music, Art and Construction, these exams cater for the needs of people who have an interest in the areas. There is no subject at the moment for people who have an interest in sport. Katherine Donnelly (2011) examined the proposals by the NCCA, she explains that the government are in favour of implementing the programme, however when the this will be implemented is the key issue. I think that making P.E. an examinable is a solution to the increasing the status of Physical Education, which will create a better awareness of the importance of Physical Education. Physical Education is not just about reducing obesity levels and improving health. The benefits of Physical Education extend far beyond the physical benefits we associate with regular exercise. Increasing the status and awareness will mean Physical Education will have more respect. This will go a long way to help with increasing the time for Physical education in schools, which is so important as in schools is the only location where all the young teenagers are present at one time.
Learning outcomes is another area that I have identified from the Whole School Evaluations. Learning outcomes are statements which link teaching and evaluation. The learning outcomes are written by the teacher in the planning stage. They are statements about what the learners will be able to do or what they will learn at the end of the class. Fink (2003) represents course design in a model linking Learning goals / learning outcomes with teaching and assessment. Measuring learning outcomes provides information on what particular knowledge (cognitive), skill or behaviour (affective) students have gained after instruction is completed (WBG 2011). Learning Outcomes are so important in Physical Education, they give direction for the class. Learning outcomes and assessment of these outcomes ensure that the students are actually learning something. Learning outcomes in P.E. are not just about learning a skill and students can be challenged cognitively and socially as well as physically. Assessment of the outcomes will show what the students have learned. Improving the learning outcomes and how they are evaluated and assessed will help with the development of the child as they will learn and not just participate in the Physical Education class. To change the current practice in P.E. will help develop a more equal P.E. experience for all students. A change in the form of making P.E. an examinable subject will give clear direction for the teachers and will ensure that the learning outcomes are being met as there will be clear assessment methods. This will help teachers to develop clearer learning outcomes and improve the overall experience of Physical Education.
Making P.E. an examinable is an area that I have focused on and discussed. I think that doing this is an important step in increasing the knowledge and awareness around Physical Education. It is possible that P.E. can improve its status without making P.E. an examinable subject however I think that it is the best method. The Irish education system is an exam focused system and taking time from other exam subjects is not realistic in our society without improving the status of Physical Education and the most efficient way will be to make it an examinable subject.