Physical education is an important part of young people’s education in senior cycle (SC/SCPE) resulting in confident and competent participants in various physical activity areas. As a result of effective physical education, young people will enjoy being physically active and choose to take part in active lifestyles as adults. Physical education at SC in Irish schools will soon be available to young people in two forms. The first, SCPE syllabus will be an exam subject within the Leaving Certificate (in development) and the second, SCPE framework, a non-exam programme for all young people at the SC.
The SCPE framework is designed around different physical education curriculum models in conjunction with physical activities and movement forms selected by a class group and their teacher. The curriculum models encourage learners to improve their performance in different physical activities while developing their understanding of the factors that impact their personal performance and participation in physical activity.
In recent years there has been discussion about physical education curriculum models (Ennis, 2003; Kirk, Macdonald, & O’Sullivan, 2006; Tannehill, van der Mars, & MacPhail, 2015) that focus on specific, relevant, and challenging outcomes and where learners are actively engaged with learning while taking responsibility for that learning. Choosing a curriculum model for a particular point in time should be based on the intent of student learning and involve young people in identifying that intent. For example, if students want to develop sport skill competence and become skilled gamesplayers by working with their peers in authentic sport settings, then Sport Education or Teaching Games for Understanding would be the choice of model. Alternatively, if students are interested in developing the capacity to cooperate with others while solving group challenges or engaging in the out-of-doors, then using Adventure Education or Personal and Social Responsibility might be the choice. Likewise, developing skills and knowledge to develop and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle is achieved through Health Related Physical Activity and young people investigating social issues that impact their lives in and beyond school are addressed when using the Contemporary Issues curriculum.
Once a curriculum model is chosen, then students and teacher can select the physical activity that will allow reaching the learning outcomes. It is important to understand that the choice of curriculum model does not dictate the content to be delivered through that model, or the instructional practices to be employed. Learning outcomes could be reached through student engagement in dance, invasion games, aquatics, or athletics; Teachers will have different interpretations and their students will have different needs and interests. Dance could be hip hop for some and salsa for others; Adventure might be hill walking or orienteering; Net Games includes tennis, badminton, or spike ball; and aquatics could be water polo or stroke work.
While teacher education programmes at the University of Limerick are currently designed to teach prospective teaching candidates about the curriculum models and allow them to experience participating, designing, and teaching with them during their education, this has not always been the case. The National Council of Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has been working with members of the PESS department and sport pedagogy team to provide professional development (PD) to practicing teachers on how to use the various curriculum models. For the past two years, a group of twelve physical education teachers from across Ireland have been engaged in this PD. Two days each semester the teachers come to UL, engage with a particular curriculum model, and design a unit of instruction using the chosen model. After teaching the unit to their SC students for six weeks, the teachers return to UL for a day to share how they progressed, provide evidence of student learning, and develop sets of video and text materials that are placed on the NCCS website to guide other physical educators. In addition, these teachers have presented teaching workshops using these curriculum models at the annual Physical Education Association of Ireland conference. So far, these teachers have learned about and taught using Sport Education, Health Related Physical Activity, Contemporary Issues, and Teaching Games for Understanding. In 2018, the teachers will focus on the final two curriculum models, Personal and Social Responsibility and Adventure Education.