Self-evaluation marks a welcome step in schools' progress
COULD do better! There are probably few pupils who haven't read those three little words on a school report card over the years.
But they are of little benefit to the student's future learning if there is not also some guidance about where the weaknesses lie and how they can be improved.
The best outcome of all is if the pupil assisted in coming to his or her own realisation of how to achieve better results. That is a win-win for the system and, most importantly, the student.
Individual schools do a great job, but we know from international reports that Ireland's performance, particularly in maths, leaves a lot to be desired. There is also worrying evidence of slippage in our rankings in reading,
So, schools may need the same direction about how they "could do better".
They receive plenty of support and advice from inspectors but external critiques are not always well received. Asking schools to do some soul-searching, to examine their own practices and outcomes, and to take soundings from their client base – pupils and their parents – is a good place to begin a process of self-improvement.
Self-evaluation is about examining the evidence, gathering views of interested parties and reflecting on the work of the school and taking its own decisions about what needs to be done.
The questions will be as simple as: How well are we doing? What evidence do we have? How can we find out more? What are our strengths? What are our areas for improvement? How can we improve?
The past decade has seen a lot of work in schools in developing policies, such as in the area of child protection and codes of behaviour.
They were necessary, and designed to make schools a better environment for all, with clear lines of accountability.
Drawing up policies necessarily involves a lot of paperwork. What schools are being asked to do now is too important to get bogged down in time-consuming paperwork, and nor should it.
A survey of parents does not require every single parent being asked to tick all the boxes, rather a representative sample.
This new process of self-evaluation is about focussing on the core work of the school – the teaching and learning. And that is where the focus must remain if "much improved" is to replace "could do better".