Review says Department of Education has 'no sense of the bigger vision'

Tue, May 8, 2012, 01:00

THE DEPARTMENT of Education is too focused on the management of short-term issues, and this has “crowded out the development of strategic, longer-term thinking”, according to a highly critical management review.

The review also complains that the department is too deferential in its talks with teacher unions and other education partners.

The department, it says, needs to be more ambitious in terms of the scope and pace of delivery in negotiations with the unions and the school management bodies.

It reports how “many perceive the negotiations process takes too long and needs to be more effectively managed”.

The criticisms are made in the Organisational Review Programme (ORP) for the department. The review – conducted by senior civil servants – is designed to assess the capability of various departments.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn and senior staff were among those interviewed as part of the review. The views of department staff and external stakeholders were also canvassed .

In a lengthy report the department is also viewed as “being overly passive’’ in tackling key strategic issues.

It is also unduly focused on the management of schools and needs to strengthen its leadership role in areas like higher education and further and adult education.

Other main findings include:

There is a widely held view that a lack of joined-up thinking in the department is a major weakness;

The department does not have the space to develop strategic thinking or a holistic approach to to the development of policy;

Top management are highly regarded individually but as a group stakeholders say they are weak at forward planning with “no sense of the bigger vision being followed’’;

The development and implementation of education policies takes an inordinate length of time;

External stakeholders believe the department gives stronger leadership at primary and post-primary than at the other levels, i.e. higher education, further education, etc;

Management of information and communications technology change is a significant weakness;

The department needs to have a much more proactive public relations function.

The ORP review team, appointed by the Department of Public Enterprise, held five meetings with Mr Quinn or the Minister for State and 42 meetings with senior management at the department.

It also held six meetings with EU and OECD officials.

In its response to the report, the Department of Education promises to develop a “clearer, more coherent , overarching view of educational developments” drawing on existing strategies and policies. It also acknowledges the need to communicate more effectively with all stakeholders.

The critical tone of the ORP review echoes many of the findings made in a report 12 years ago by Seán Cromien, a former secretary general at the Department of Education.

The Cromien report led to the establishment of the State Exams Commission and other external agencies; the plan was to give the department more space to develop long-term thinking.