Maths is adding up, but Irish has paid the price in primary schools, say inspectors
A significant improvement in the quality of maths teaching and learning in second-level schools, but a deterioration in standards in Irish among primary pupils, are the high and low points of a new snapshot of the nation's classrooms.
Overall, teaching at primary level was of a "high" standard, while Department of Education inspectors also reported "largely positive" findings about teaching and learning in post-primary schools.
But the chief inspector's report, based on about 5,000 inspections between 2013-16, pinpoints areas of concern around standards in Irish, English and maths.
In a general commentary, chief inspector Harold Hislop said the vast bulk of classes were deemed to be "good or better" and they wanted to see more in the "very good" category.
An overall improvement in English and maths teaching and learning in primary schools, since the 2010-12 report, is attributed to the introduction of the numeracy and literacy strategy. However, Irish appears to have been a victim, and Mr Hislop said yesterday that, in English-medium schools, the focus of the strategy tended to be on English.
The report noted a deterioration in outcomes for primary pupils in Irish since 2010-12, with a significant number of children not making "appropriate progress".
The quality of teaching and learning in Irish was deemed 'less than satisfactory' in 28pc of schools. The comparable figure for English was 7pc and for maths 4pc.
In only 12pc of primary schools was the teaching and learning of Irish considered "very good or better", compared with 27pc for English and 33pc for maths.
Mr Hislop said they hoped that a new primary languages curriculum introduced in 2016, which places a greater emphasis on Irish as a communicative language, and new teaching materials, which are being developed, would contribute to a raising of standards.
Other initiatives are also in place in relation to the teaching of Irish at both levels, including in the area of teacher education.
There was a general improvement in standards in English and maths in primary schools, but, on the downside, inspectors found that teaching approaches were "less than satisfactory" in 12pc of English lessons, and 15pc of maths classes where inspectors arrived unannounced.
At second-level, the embedding of the Project Maths curriculum and a programme of upskilling for maths teachers take the credit for the increase in the quality of teaching and learning.
The quality of teaching and learning was judged to be "good or better" in 93pc of inspections, up from 77pc in 2010-12. But, while learning in 41pc of maths lessons was "very good", teaching approaches were "less than satisfactory" in 12pc of classes, and 15pc where inspectors arrived unannounced.
In English, the overall quality of learning was "less than satisfactory" in 17pc of inspections.
In contrast to primary level, the overall quality of learning in Irish showed an improvement on 2010-2012, although the report states that "challenges persist in the teaching of the subject".
The report covers the spectrum of issues of interest to the inspectorate, including the quality of management. At primary level, it noted that a minority of voluntary boards find it challenging to manage demanding tasks including handling parental complaints and providing leadership when the school's standards are unsatisfactory.
On bullying, it states schools are doing "good work", with a "marked improvement" in the confidence of post-primary parents and students that the schools will deal with bullying effectively.
Education Minister Richard Bruton said the findings affirm that his vision for the Irish education system to become the best in Europe over the next decade was achievable.