The general aim of physical education in senior cycle is to develop the learner’s capacity to participate in physical education and physical activity in a confident and informed way. In Leaving Certificate Physical Education, learners have an opportunity to study physical education for certification. The specification is designed to appeal to learners who have an interest in and a commitment to participation and performance in physical activity. The aim of Leaving Certificate Physical Education is to develop the learner’s capacity to become an informed, skilled, self-directed and reflective performer in physical education and physical activity in senior cycle and in their future life.

The emphasis is on providing learners with integrated learning experiences where there is a balance between developing personal performance in selected physical activities and deepening their understanding of the theoretical perspectives that impact on performance and participation in physical activity. These perspectives include learning in the humanities/social sciences and life sciences.

Teaching and learning in physical education aims to support learners in becoming physically educated young people. Learners strive to improve their performance in selected physical activities. They learn to apply knowledge and understanding about physical activity to inform how they prepare for, participate and perform in physical activity. Through participation and performance in physical activity, students learn about being personally effective as individual performers but also as part of a team or group. They develop different social skills and competences as they work in collaboration with others towards a common goal.

Students learn about the importance of physical activity as part of a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle. They examine the factors which influence their own and others’ participation in physical activity. They discuss different experiences of physical activity, from recreational participation through to the pursuit of excellence and the value of each experience for health and wellbeing.

In physical education, there are many opportunities for learners to work as individuals, in groups and in teams where they can develop a deeper understanding of the concepts of fairness and personal and social responsibility. While performance in physical activity is a central part of students’ learning in physical education, learners are encouraged to undertake roles other than that of performer. In particular, learners are encouraged to undertake leadership and coaching roles as part of their learning in physical education. These different experiences support the development of each of the key skills in senior cycle education but particularly those of being personally effective and working with others. By developing the key skills, learners can move closer to becoming confident and competent participants in physical activity now and into their adult lives.

In physical education, the term physical activity is understood to include all forms of physical activity on a continuum where participation in physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle is at one end and competing to win is at the other end.

Learners experience physical education as a concurrent process of learning in, through and about physical activity.

Learning in physical activity refers to experiential outcomes where learners are actively engaged in physical activity. Learners apply their knowledge and understanding of theoretical perspectives to their pursuit of performance goals. Learners engage in ongoing reflection about their learning and progress in physical activity.

Learning through physical activity refers to instrumental outcomes where physical activity is the medium through which students learn. The focus is not primarily on the outcome or performance but rather on students’ personal, social and intellectual learning through their engagement in the physical activity. 

Learning about physical activity refers to enquiring about how different theoretical perspectives influence performance in physical activity. Students learn to make informed decisions about planning to achieve their performance goals. As students learn about physical activity, they also learn to question what happens in the name of physical activity at a local, national and international level.

Physical education is included in two ways in senior cycle: the senior cycle physical education framework provides a planning tool for schools to design a programme for those learners not following a programme in physical education as part of the Leaving Certificate. Leaving Certificate Physical Education, on the other hand, is a full subject that learners study and are assessed in, as part of their Leaving Certificate examinations.