Why dreaded inspections are not making the grade
Are school inspections delivering what they promise? For many principals and teachers the answer is no, says Gerry Murphy
Most teachers face inspections with worry and dread. They see the process as labour-intensive and not rewarding, or reflecting, the professionalism given to teaching.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) is extremely concerned that school inspections are no longer a positive experience.
In recent years, with the introduction of Every School a Good School, the educational environment has become centrally-driven, fuelled by competition and fixated on a narrow set of educational outcomes.
Education of the whole person is no longer a concern for the education system lords. INTO views it as essential that the pupil again becomes centre-stage. Inspections must reflect this.
The inspection process, at the same time, has been evolving away from a partnership with schools. Inspection has become increasingly about ensuring centrally-devised targets for literacy and numeracy are met and that departmental policy objectives are delivered.
For INTO members and our colleagues among support staff in schools the consequence of this shift in the focus has been grave. Teachers' workloads have increased dramatically as schools re-orientate themselves to preparing for the inspection and stress-levels increase across the entire school community. A bad inspection report can be catastrophic for a school and, indeed, ultimately for the community it serves.
INTO believes that the young persons in our schools and those charged with teaching them would be better served by everyone taking a step back and coming together to evaluate what it is we see as the purpose of inspection with a view to arriving at an agreed methodology.
INTO would want to see a number of changes to our current inspection process.
A revised complaints procedure with a meaningful level of independent oversight would reassure teachers that their concerns are being treated seriously.
A standardised format in respect of what inspectors want from schools to inform planning before an inspection would negate some of the stress generated in the run-up. Attempts to do this in the past have largely failed.
A greater degree of collaboration should be developed between schools and inspectors in the preparation and reporting of inspection outcomes. The reduction of six levels of school performance to at least half that number is sensible.
After all, the Inspectorate should be able to articulate in the written report the challenges a school may face, or even recognise effective practices in a school in something other than a grading shorthand.
We would also consider it worth discussing other changes to the inspections' status quo - perhaps an oversight committee involving the trade unions and the Inspectorate.
This could meet a couple of times a year to review how things are progressing in this most sensitive of areas and suggest improvements.
INTO would like to discuss the notion of fixed-term secondment of serving teachers as inspectors, extending the current associated inspector role with a view to creating an Inspectorate populated by current professionals who, having served as an inspector, would return to their school.
These changes would go some way to addressing the culture of 'them-and-us'.
What is clear is that inspection, as currently practised in our schools, is in need of review, or perhaps inspection, with a view to finding a way of re-establishing the positive relationships formerly enjoyed between the frontline educators and the Inspectorate.
INTO is up for the challenges of inspection reform.
We hope that others, too, will seize this invitation to engage and that their engagement in the debate will be constructive. We await their response with interest.