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Unions reject 'big brother spying' in struggling schools

By Anna Maguire

A controversial suggestion to use video cameras to film lessons in struggling schools has been branded controversial and unwarranted by teaching unions.

The suggestion was put forward in a Department of Education consultation, which looked at controversial proposals to change the schools' formal intervention process.

The plans would see schools rated by inspectors as "satisfactory" placed into formal intervention.

Only schools labelled as "inadequate" or "unsatisfactory" are currently placed in formal intervention.

They must then address areas for improvement identified during the inspection.

Under department plans, "satisfactory" schools would have to improve to at least "good".

Those which do not improve after two consecutive inspections will face further action – while the department will be able to keep a school in formal intervention even if it has been rated "satisfactory".

The consultation document was circulated to all schools, Northern Ireland's Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), teaching bodies, education boards and unions.

Despite a low response rate, the department's proposals were met with support, but also uncertainty.

Respondents who agreed that "satisfactory" schools should face further action if they do not improve after further inspections warned that each school should be considered individually and provided with extra support.

Unions pointed to education boards' support services which have been "run down... to a point where they can barely support schools in the formal intervention process", at a time when formal intervention could become more rigorous.

One body pointed to schools' "seriously compromised confidence" in the inspection process because of the perceived "link between... inspections and area planning, the department's plans for school closures and amalgamations".

But one of the suggestions to arise from consultation responses may prove contentious.

Schools, education bodies and unions were asked to detail what measures schools in formal intervention should face. Struggling schools are already subject to potentially restructured management, amalgamation or closure.

Of 28 respondents, 10 agreed with the proposal.

Among the suggestions for further measures was "agreed video monitoring of classroom practice" – a proposal put forward by a school principal.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) described the big brother-style intervention as "controversial".

"This would be replicating the facilities that are already there to observe every teacher in Northern Ireland," Brendan Harron, INTO's (Irish National Teachers' Organisation) senior official, said.

"Making teachers feel like they are in a laboratory won't work," he added.

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