School inspections 'too infrequent'
A lax inspection regime means standards at fewer than one in 10 of Northern Ireland primary schools are fully checked during an academic year, it has been claimed.
Reviews are carried out once every 13 years on average and more should be done to ensure teaching is up to scratch, according to pressure group ParentsOutLoud.
Spokeswoman Dr Liz Fawcett said: "These statistics really beggar belief. Children only get one chance at a school education and it is vital that there's a robust external inspection system to ensure that their teaching is up to scratch.
"Inspection reports should also provide a very important source of data for parents when they are choosing a school for their child - the fact that so many reports are outdated means that parents are being denied the full information to which they are entitled."
The parents' group, an independent non-profit organisation which has been campaigning on the issue of schools starting ages, conducted sample surveys which found that the most recent full inspections of two Omagh primaries dated back 15 and 14 years.
The most recent full reports available for a further four Belfast and Omagh primaries were produced nine years ago.
Just 8% of all primaries received a full inspection within a recent 12-month period (based on reports published last year). At this rate each primary can expect to be examined every 13 years on average.
Only 15% of secondaries received a full inspection within the same period. At this rate each school can expect to receive one every seven years on average.
Dr Fawcett said the schools inspectorate's budget was being reduced by a fifth.
"We are dismayed that the Department of Education is slashing the inspectorate's budget when there's such a clear need for more resources to be invested in school inspections," she said, adding the £5 million budget was roughly equivalent to the running costs of two or three large schools.
"That would appear to be an utterly inadequate investment in ensuring the quality of teaching when there are some 1,200 schools across Northern Ireland."
Members of ParentsOutLoud give evidence to Stormont's education committee on Wednesday.
An Education and Training Inspectorate spokesman said until September 2010, the Inspectorate aimed to inspect each school at least once every seven years with more frequent inspection of a school being undertaken where it was deemed necessary.
"In September 2010, ETI introduced a proportionate and risk-based inspection strategy whereby the need for and duration of an inspection is identified by information from school performance indicators, risk factors including the length of time since the last formal inspection and information from ongoing monitoring of schools by district inspectors," he added.
"This strategy is being phased in over six years and is designed to target resources to where they are most needed and will have the greatest impact.
"An important feature of this strategy is that all schools will have a formal inspection activity at least once in a three-year period, but that the length and nature of the inspection activity will vary according to assessment of risk.
"This will allow ETI to deploy more intensive resources to schools where improvement is required while recognising, endorsing and disseminating innovative practice in the best schools. All targets remain on track for successful completion."
All inspections, including two day inspections of small, low risk primary schools, report on the overall effectiveness of the school, achievements and standards, quality of provision and leadership and management, the spokesman added.
"Follow-up inspections (of schools that are satisfactory or below), also evaluate these aspects and are therefore a robust inspection process.
"These and two day inspections are ignored by ParentsOutLoud in their analysis."
By the end of the current academic year almost 90% of primary schools and 97% of post-primary schools will have been inspected within seven years. During the last business year 17% of primary schools (144) and 22% of post primary schools (46) had either an inspection or a follow-up inspection.
"There is ongoing monitoring of all schools by the District Inspector which is unique to schools in Northern Ireland," the spokesman added.