Cameron Stewart – Irish Primary PE Conference

“Moving Forward: Physical Education for the Future”

Galway was the setting for the 2018 Irish Primary P.E Association’s annual conference and what a glorious setting it was. I can see why Ed Sheeran wrote a song about this place, it was nearly as inspiring as the work going on at the conference.

The conference was held at the NUIG sports centre and it was packed with workshops, delivered by some of Ireland’s most talented teachers and educators.

The following workshops were on offer and I personally took part in the Irish dancing, back to basics, yoga and managing conflict.

Before heading to the first workshop we all took part in the morning introduction session. The first thing that struck me was the number of primary classroom teachers in attendance. There were well over 100 teachers, each with a clear focus on improving their own delivery of P.E at a primary level. I found that inspiring, and it was clear from the start that Ireland, as a nation, appreciated the importance of Health & Wellbeing and physical activity and this had clearly filtered down into its teaching staff.

The first workshop of the day was “folk dance”. Personally, as a teacher, I had recently become a bit obsessed with gameplay, so I was really looking forward to an insight into different types of dance and how this can benefit pupils learning. The workshop itself was excellent, very well organised and explained by the two tutors. What they made clear was the benefit different types of dance can have for children in terms of bilateral coordination, confidence, cognitive development and also fitness. At the end of the workshop my two left feet were in bits, but I left feeling refreshed and inspired about the importance of dance and aesthetics in the curriculum.

Next up was “back to basics”. This workshop was focused on developing fundamental movement skills through fun activities. Personally, I have a huge interest in F.M.S and the role it plays in physical literacy, so I was really keen to see their approach towards developing this.

The model they used was a Multi Skills Jigsaw. The components of this jigsaw are below.

I was really excited to see a focus on “sports specific skills and tactics.” I think it’s really important to not only develop movement, but develop pupil’s knowledge regarding gameplay and how to approach certain game types. I liked the way the jigsaw displayed the structure of learning.  The Fundamentals of Movement are at the bottom, they include key building blocks such as balance, co-ordination, agility and speed.  Next are the fundamental game skills and movement skills including spacing, passing and moving , throwing and running.  Finally they had sport specific skills and tactics.

The activities which they then demonstrated were well organised and appropriate with clear progressions and pathways. However I think the biggest area of interest was the pedagogical approach and how the jigsaw was laid out.

I then rounded out the day with my final two workshops, Yoga and Managing Conflict. The yoga was excellent and the tutor explained how yoga can be linked to gymnastics in many different ways. The way she combined the stretches with the relaxation techniques linked really well into mental wellbeing and if we can help our pupils improve their ability to relax, which can only be a good thing.

The managing conflict workshop was eye-opening. An area I have always found difficult is improving pupil’s abilities in dealing with conflict. Again this is another reason why P.E is such a vital subject , because it addresses life skills, the ability to communicate with others, reason with them, create solutions and work together. The tutor explained his “think tank” process in which pupils who disagreed would take a seat in the “think tank”. They would then take turns explaining their feelings and come up with a solution before leaving. He discussed how important it was to follow and teach the pupils the process and dealing with conflict is a skill. I saw how this could be linked to Sport Education in which pupils/teams could be rewarded points for using the think tank which would be a pretty positive approach to behaviour management. 

Overall my experience in Galway has been a fruitful one. Ireland are currently in a re-development phase of their national curriculum so it is an opportune time for us, Scotland, to share our good practice with them regarding primary and secondary physical education. At the end of the day it’s clear we are all trying to achieve the same goal, positive P.E experiences for our pupils.