An inspector calls
My Education Week: The arrival of the cigire used to be met with dread, but now it’s part of a wider partnership process
Bench marks: Declan Cahalane at a science class with Marie-Therese Kilmartin, the principal of Coláiste Bríde, Clondalkin, Dublin. This school does not feature in Calhalane’s inspections, described below. Photograph: Alan Betson
Teachers can be apprehensive at the start of most inspections. It must feel strange to have someone in your classroom or to have to talk to a stranger about the way things are done in your school.
There’s an image of the stern inspector sitting judgementally at the back of the class, but that is far from the reality.
I am a subject inspector for chemistry and science at post-primary level. I used to be a chemistry teacher. Like all subject inspectors, I also conduct whole-school evaluations, and my work is varied. Some days, I am in the office at the Department of Education and Skills on Marlborough Street in Dublin. Other days, I’m on the road, sometimes travelling long distances to schools. There are often evening sittings of school management boards, so sometimes I stay overnight rather than travel back to Dublin.
There are 10 inspectors from the various science disciplines working across the five business units of the inspectorate. This group meets twice a year, and today I am chairing the meeting. Some of my colleagues represent the Department on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and this is a good chance for us to discuss and contribute to the proposed changes to the new Junior Cycle science syllabus.
After the meeting, I touch base with a colleague who supported me on a recent whole-school evaluation. We worked together for three days evaluating lessons and meeting various groups of staff and students, and tomorrow we will return with our feedback.
On the way home, I stop for a swim at the Bull Wall. It’s a great way to unwind after a day at the office.
I arrive at the school with my colleague for the post-evaluation feedback day. We have prepared a presentation summarising the key findings and areas for development, which was reviewed with our regional manager.
We are greeted warmly by the staff who got to know us during our time working with them. Before we get started, we are brought to the staffroom for coffee. Then we get down to business. We have three separate meetings: one with the school’s senior management, one with the whole staff, and another with the board of management. A representative of the parents’ association comes to the meeting with the board, so the messages we give will be shared across the school community.
Parents and students were surveyed at the start of the process. This time, our feedback is very positive. The school is working very well and there are only a few areas that require further development. During the feedback, we have good discussions about our findings and the evidence on which we have based them. We always aim to be as constructive as possible in our advice. We know that schools are doing their best to manage within the context of tightened resources.
Back in the office this morning, I review yesterday’s notes and make some final edits to the report.
For quality assurance, our reports are edited by a colleague before being issued to schools and published on the DES website. Our role doesn’t end after the inspection. We do a follow-up visit a year or two later but, in the first instance, it is up to the school’s board of management to take ownership and work through the findings and recommendations.
The email traffic is quiet today. I take a quick look at the list of parliamentary questions which is circulated by the office of the Minister for Education. Sometimes, these will need an input from the inspectorate and our professional advice will be called for. They could be about the staffing of the inspectorate, the number of inspections carried out and their outcomes, or our views on numerous educational initiatives. There’s nothing there today.