Gain without pain
The specialist sports college's director of sport, Aidan Moloney, explains the reasoning behind this approach: "When each class did a couple of activities for the whole of the first term, it was impossible to predict end-of-key-stage levels by the time required - two months into Year 7. With little information from primary schools, we didn't have enough knowledge across a range of subjects to assess individual pupils accurately."
Each week, during three 50-minute lessons, single-sex mixed-ability groups focus on a different area of the PE curriculum under the guidance of the same PE teacher. Then, at a departmental moderation meeting, information is shared, comparisons made and a small group of pupils is observed to agreed parameters against which to assess the rest.
From this observation session, an end-of-KS2 level and a PE set is allocated to every Year 7 child. Aidan Moloney is certain this enables his department to form a better idea of each child's potential.
"After the induction programme we can predict who will be our future A-C grade students, which pupils will need additional support and who the real high achievers are likely to be," he says.
Organised according to whole-school policy and along the same lines as academic subjects, three-part lessons (introduction, main body, plenary) are the norm. During the introduction, learning objectives are shared with the group. For instance, in their first lesson, the gymnastics group has to explore the five basic footwork patterns and develop sequences for performance, using a combination of these movements.
Initially, pupils' involvement was a guided discovery process, whereby sequences were first developed alone and then with a partner. Next, they were given criteria around which their work would be assessed. To progress, each group knows they will need to demonstrate good body tension and include a change of speed, direction and level in their sequence. Finally, the plenary involves several groups taking turns to demonstrate their sequence while the rest watch.
Aidan Moloney says: "Reporting back in this way gives children a tangible short-term goal to pursue and provides added motivation to work."
In subsequent gymnastics induction lessons, pupils begin to use observation as a way of evaluating and improving performance. Given a checklist of relevant criteria, each pupil acts as coach to their partner, checking ways to improve.
Over eight weeks, the process is repeated in each area of PE. By concentrating on generics - for instance invasion games - rather than individual sports, core skills and principles relevant to all sports in a particular genre can be introduced and assessed.
In this way, the focus is on pupils' ability to progress; their potential, rather than just their current level. It also enables evaluation and application to be included from the outset, whereas a sport-specific approach could lead to over-emphasis on performance criteria.
However Ashton's induction programme provides more than a baseline assessment. Aidan Moloney explains how the induction also prepares children for the challenges ahead: "Through offering a variety of activities in the first few weeks, we are more likely to enthuse a greater number of pupils.
The prospect of an initial eight weeks of football is hardly likely to turn a pupil who hates the game on to PE. That child may, however, enjoy, or be good at, dance or athletics."
The effect on pupil motivation has been marked. Two weeks into the term, more than 47 have already joined the school rugby club, more than 50 girls have started netball and 65 boys have turned out for Year 7 football trials.
"Long before the end of the initial eight weeks, they are left in no doubt that participation, performance and progress are valued as an important part of school life," says Aidan Moloney.
Perhaps a more difficult task is to get the message to Ashton's feeder primary schools. Without the dedicated PE staff, and with senior management prioritising academic study, it is too easy for the PE profile to suffer.
"One focus of our outreach work is assessment for learning, supporting primary colleagues in the delivery of PE," says Aidan Moloney. "From this, we hope more will gain the confidence to teach PE in a focused, developmental way and that the importance of physical activity in general will be raised."
Ashton on Mersey School
Tel: 0161 973 1179