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Michael Martin, the Irish education and science minister, has announced proposals for whole school evaluation which represent a watering down of controversial plans put forward by his predecessor Niamh Bhreathnach two years ago.
Inspection of Irish schools is a rare event. Primary schools are inspected every four to six years and secondaries only when the need arises. Many schools are not visited for years on end. This is partly because of a shortage of inspectors and partly because they are busy with other tasks including responsibility for state examinations.
The new evaluation system is seen as a partnership between the inspectorate and the school. At primary level all aspects of the school will be reviewed, while at secondary level the focus will be on planning and management and on the quality of learning and teaching in selected subjects.
The unions have been assured that any data obtained during the evaluation exercise will not be used to compare schools locally or nationally or to construct any form of national league table.
There will be a post-inspection meeting after which a report will be sent within six weeks to the schools. This report will refer to management, teaching, planning and learning.
The focus will be on the work of the whole school and not on the work of individuals. It will affirm positive elements of the school's work and suggest lines for further development. All aspects of the school report will have been discussed previously at the post-inspection meeting and the report itself will not contain any surprises.
The evaluation will be tested initially in a dozen schools and then in a further dozen primary and secondary schools.
The new proposals are a far cry from plans put forward two years ago. These would have evaluated student achievement; pupil-teacher interaction; the deployment of staff; the quality of buildings; the extent to which educational guidelines were being followed; the provision for meeting students' needs; and how all the resources of the school - human, physical and financial - were being used. Schools were to have been rated in four bands from very good to weak.
But the plans ran into strong opposition from unions. Two have now agreed to participate in the pilot project and the third will decide at its annual congress at Easter.
However, the National Parents' Council claims parents are being marginalised in the new process because they are being denied the ability to compare schools' peformances.