A claim that four out of 10 schools here would be investigated if the English inspection model was applied in Northern Ireland is a startling one. The province prides itself on high education standards, but this is an image skewed by high achieving pupils – mostly in leading grammar schools. There is less mention made of the significant numbers of pupils who leave school with few, if any, qualifications.
The Department of Education's statistics show that less than 40% of the Year 12 pupils in 85 of the 215 post primary schools in the province failed to gain A-C grades in GCSE Maths and English in 2011-12. That is the benchmark which would trigger an investigation under the English model. That is something which should concern all of us. Yet, as this newspaper has already reported, the system of inspection here appears to be haphazard, with some schools not having been inspected for a decade or more. A proper system of inspection would instill confidence that educational standards were under constant scrutiny.
This is not a question of whether pupils here perform better or worse than in other parts of the UK, but of creating an education system which offers them the best chance of reaching their individual potential. There is a feeling of chaos throughout the education system here, with state and Catholic schools, an unauthorised selection process at 11, a crumbling estate and poor outcomes for far too many pupils. What is urgently needed is regular monitoring of standards, particularly in the post-primary sector – an education health check, in effect.
We should aim for the English criteria, where schools are deemed either good or outstanding. Anything below that requires investigation. This is a small province, where it should be possible to devise an education system and model of inspection which would be the envy of other regions of the UK. Instead, there is constant bickering and conflict over how schools are defined, instead of how efficiently they operate. We should heed the warning that has been given.