Inspectors criticise teachers, facilities in schools

 

Crumbling buildings, badly prepared teachers and tuition charges in schools that are supposed to be free are just some of the problems facing primary schools, a new report has found.

In an unusual move, Department of Education inspectors yesterday released details of what they found in around 50 primary schools visited during 2001/2002.

While the names of the schools have been withheld, the inspectors' findings provide a rare insight into the provision of primary education in the Republic. Also cited among the criticisms is a lack of effective communication with parents.

Teachers are generally complemented on their performance, but the report draws attention to the number who are badly prepared for classes. It says a significant number do not comply with rule 126 for national schools, which says teachers must make adequate "written preparation" for their work. It adds that in some cases where there is proper planning by teachers, it is not linked to the primary school curriculum.

There is good practice among most teachers, the report finds, but a minority of teachers do not plan or prepare lessons properly, says the report, "Fifty School Reports: What Inspectors Say".

It also highlights the poor state of primary school buildings throughout the Republic.

Almost half the schools visited operated from buildings that were either too small or dilapidated. There was a severe lack of toilet facilities and general-purpose rooms in many schools.

The report accuses some schools of ignoring Department guidelines on class-size. In some cases there were more than 30 pupils in one class.

The other major area of concern is tuition fees. While this is not unusual in the small number of private primary schools around the State, the report says it is also taking place in schools which are supposed to be part of the "free education" scheme.

It says this practice raises "fundamental questions" about the principle of free primary education. It says the schools involved, which are not listed, use the money to bring in extra teachers in areas such as music, drama and PE, raising the issue of "equality of access" to primary education.

In relation to parents, the report praises their work in schools and the supportive role they play, often working closely with the principal.

However, it says there is an absence of "effective communication" between parent associations and schools. It says parents are not given a sufficiently large role in school development planning.

On specific subjects, the report is broadly positive, although it strongly urges schools to teach Irish in a more creative way. It says there is too much emphasis on written Irish and not enough on speaking the language. It also questions whether pupils are achieving high enough standards in the subject, considering the amount of time allocated to the subject.

The Minister for Education, Mr Dempsey, welcomed the report: "I am delighted to see this report published. It is practical evidence of the commitment of my Department's inspectorate in fulfilling its statutory function to evaluate the work of schools and to provide information, support and advice on the wide range of issues involved," he said.

"The report confirms the general belief that our primary schools are doing a very good job all round. It gives many examples of the good practice observed by inspectors and praises the contribution of all the partners in the life of a school."

The primary teachers' union, the INTO, said "rarely have civil servants shown the courage to criticise their political masters as the inspectors have done in this report".

Mr John Carr, general secretary, said it had highlighted the issues of inadequate funding and incomplete training and planning for the revised curriculum. "This report clearly backs up INTO claims about substandard accommodation in primary schools. It makes public recommendations made by inspectors about the need to make better provision for the maintenance of school buildings and to start the process of renovating or extending schools," he added.