Schools to have right to reply to reports

Schools will have the right to reply to any criticisms made of them in school inspection reports, according to new Department…

Schools will have the right to reply to any criticisms made of them in school inspection reports, according to new Department of Education proposals.

The department has proposed that the school's response should be published along with the actual inspector's report.

The proposal was made as part of discussions between senior department officials and teacher unions in the past week.

Minister for Education Mary Hanafin has signalled her intention of making school reports available publicly as part of a move towards greater transparency in the education system. The reports will not give exam results but will provide an over-view of the school's performance as seen by the department.

Confirming the new proposal, the department said last night that the right of reply would give schools an opportunity to make a "structured and considered" response to the recommendations in the school inspection reports. It would also allow schools to signal a way forward based on the report.

The proposal could see a school turn the spotlight on the department. A school could, for example, say it is unable to run a full special needs or transition-year programme because of a lack of funds.

The new proposal was well received by teacher unions during meetings with the department's inspectorate. Meetings have already taken place with the INTO, the ASTI, the TUI and the main school management group the Joint Managerial Board.

Ms Hanafin hopes to begin publishing the school reports within the next year. The teaching unions, however, are concerned that individual teachers could be identified. Discussion on safeguards to avoid this are ongoing.

The Hanafin plan is seen as an alternative to school league tables. Although very popular with parents, these tables are seen as damaging by many within the education sector.

This month Ms Hanafin said the inspection reports could "identify when schools and teachers are working to optimum effect, and where improvements are needed".

Inspection reports provide an overview of how a school is performing. The reports are circulated to schools, but have never been published.