All State primary and post-primary schools in Ireland must be inspected by the Department of Education and Skills on a regular basis. The purpose of inspections is to ensure that high standards are maintained and that there is continuing development of the educational system. The Department has a special division called the Inspectorate that works to achieve these objectives.
The legislation dealing with school inspection is the Education Act (1998) which sets out the responsibilities of the Inspectorate. In general terms, the Inspectorate evaluates and reports on the quality of education provision and is involved in:
The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is responsible for assessing the education provision for children who are not attending a recognised school. This includes children who attend private schools. The Inspectorate has drawn up guidelines on monitoring this education provision for the NEWB.
On 1 January 2014, the National Educational Welfare Board was abolished and its functions transferred to the Child and Family Agency.
The Inspectorate is organised two subdivisions: Regional Services and Policy Support. These subdivisions contain teams of inspectors, which are known as business units. Each unit is headed by an Assistant Chief Inspector.
Regional Services: There are five regional units, which are responsible for monitoring the quality of schools in their respective areas. Each unit is staffed by a team of primary- and post-primary-level inspectors who provide evaluation services (including inspections) in the region. In addition to evaluative work, inspectors provide advice and support to schools, boards of management, teachers and others in the education system. Within the counties covered by a regional unit, primary schools are given the names and contact details of inspectors assigned to them.
Policy Support: There are five units in this subdivision which are staffed by a small team of inspectors. These units look into areas such as teacher education; qualifications, curriculum and assessment at early childhood, primary and second level; special education and Traveller education. They are also involved in the planning and co-ordination of evaluations and in linkages to relevant international bodies.
Primary schools are inspected on a cyclical basis in line with annual inspection targets. A school report (Tuairisc Scoile) is prepared on each primary school on average every seven years following a detailed school inspection. This report is passed on to the school staff and boards of management. This evaluation of the school examines all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment, as well as school planning, the work of the board of management, and the school's accommodation and resources. The work of individual teachers is inspected in accordance with the Rules for National Schools and much of this work will relate to the evaluation and support of probationary teachers. Inspectors also carry out frequent incidental inspection visits to schools to familiarise themselves with the ongoing work of particular schools and teachers. The inspection of primary schools is being further developed with the introduction of Whole School Evaluation (see below) which will replace the Tuairisc Scoile model of inspection.
Specialist inspectors undertake subject inspections in post-primary schools. An evaluation report on the teaching of a particular subject is given to the school. Inspectors may also visit schools in a number of other contexts, for example, the monitoring of special programmes that may be in place in that particular school. Whole School Evaluation (see below) has been introduced to secondary schools to complement other types of inspection.
Until March 2003 much of the work of the post-primary inspectors was the organisation of the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations. This is now being done by the State Examinations Commission which publishes the Chief Examiners' reports on the outcomes of the examinations in a number of subjects. These reports give schools and teachers detailed information on how students have performed in each part of the examination in a given subject.
The Inspectorate is also responsible for evaluating certain types of educational provision including:
In addition, the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) under the Education Welfare Act 2000 may ask the Inspectorate to assess the education provided in places other than recognised schools. These assessments may assist the NEWB to decide if children in non-recognised schools are receiving an appropriate minimum education.
Since 2003-2004 this type of evaluation has been phased into primary and post-primary schools. It aims to improve schools and complements school inspections. The WSE has been developed using a partnership approach and it is designed to:
The WSE evaluates schools under the headings of management, planning, curriculum provision, learning and teaching, and support for students. The WSE process includes pre-evaluation meetings with staff and management, meeting with parents’ association, school and classroom visits, preparation of a draft report, post-inspection meetings with staff and management, finalisation of the WSE report and issue of report to school.
The Evaluation Support and Research Unit (ESRU) of the Inspectorate is responsible for evaluating aspects of education provision throught thematic or programme evaluations. At post-primary level these include Transition Year, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme, Leaving Certificate Applied and the Junior Certificate School Programme. The success of these programmes has been evaluated and the Inspectorate has published reports giving full details of its findings. You can contact the Inspectorate for details of how to get copies of these reports. At primary level, evaluations carried out include, for example, provision for Traveller education; implementation of the primary school curriculum; literacy and numeracy in schools designated as disadvantaged.
Since 2003 the Inspectorate’s role in the provision of resources for pupils with special educational needs has greatly reduced. This work is now done by the National Council for Special Education. The Inspectorate continues to evaluate the services for pupils with special educational needs
Curriculum development: The Inspectorate contributes to curriculum and syllabus development by representing the Department of Education and Skills on the primary and post-primary committees of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
In-career development of teachers: The Department of Education and Skills funds a wide range of initiatives that assist teachers to improve their managerial and teaching skills. The Inspectorate contributes by helping to identify priorities for in-career development programmes and by monitoring the quality of the courses delivered to teachers.
Monitoring teacher education/teacher accreditation: In addition to their work with probationary teachers, inspectors in the primary sector also monitor the standards of student teachers as they complete their undergraduate studies. At present, members of the Inspectorate are involved in the accreditation process for teachers at primary and post-primary levels. At second level much of the Inspectorate’s work advising on qualifications and accreditation of teachers is being transferred to the Teaching Council which was established in 2006 under the Teaching Council Acts 2001 and 2006.
School self-review and school development planning The Inspectorate promotes the development of school self-review and development planning processes both within schools and through its involvement in the School Development Planning Initiative at primary and second levels.
Inspectors contribute very significantly in supporting the provision of targeted educational services for pupils with special needs at first and second levels.
The Inspectorate has a central role in planning, managing and overseeing educational input into a wide range of initiatives designed to deal with educational disadvantage and to promote social inclusion. They place a particular emphasis on school retention and home-school links and in supporting developments in educational provision for Travellers and for foreign nationals.
Wider linkages: The Inspectorate participates in and contributes to the work of relevant North/South educational initiatives and various EU and other international organisations. A key element of this work is its involvement in international surveys of student attainment.
Planning and building: Inspectors attached to the Planning and Building units of the Department of Education and Skills provide specialist support and advice on matters associated with educational buildings.
The Professional Code of Practice on Evaluation and Reporting for the Inspectorate sets out general principles and guidelines that inspectors use for evaluation and reporting. The guidelines apply equally to evaluating and reporting on the work of schools as units, on individual teachers, on curricular programmes and on the implementation of Ministerial regulations, carried out by inspectors working individually or in teams. Reports of schools inspections carried out since 6 February 2006 are made available to the public. These inspection reports are published according to the Inspectorate’s Guidelines on the Publication of School Reports and do not include details of examination results. The inspection report is first sent to the school which has the right to respond to the Inspectorate’s report within 21 days. The Inspectorate will then publish the report and the school’s response. Reports of school inspections carried out before 6 February 2006 are not generally available to the public. However, access may be given at the discretion of the school.
The reports of school inspections carried out after 6 February 2006 are published on the Department of Education and Skills (DES) website. You can read more about the inspection of schools on the DES website.
Department of Education and Skills
Tel:(01) 889 6553
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.