Schools to face new inspections with a focus on child protection
New-style school inspections with an exclusive focus on child protection are starting next month.
The specialised child protection and safeguarding inspections will be carried out in a sample of schools around the country every year.
While existing whole school evaluations (WSEs) by Department of Education inspectors seek confirmation that schools have child protection policies and procedures in place, these will be more in-depth and will look at how school boards and staff are fulfilling their legal responsibilities in this regard.
At primary level, the inspections will include discussions with pupils about their learning in Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and the Stay Safe child protection programme.
At post-primary level, inspectors will have discussions with students about SPHE and Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE).
The written consent of parents and of post-primary students will be obtained in advance of the pupils' participation in focus groups with the inspectors.
Other features of the new inspections will include an invitation to parents to participate in an online survey that explores issues relevant to school climate and parents' awareness of the procedures in relation to child protection and anti-bullying.
Education Minister Joe McHugh said the new inspections "would strengthen child protection systems. They will provide another level of reassurance and they will help to guide and direct schools in relation to meeting their child protection obligations.
"They are an important way of promoting improvement in the implementation of child protection procedures and to promote best practice in school leadership as it relates to child protection."
He said they were developed through an extensive research and consultation process with the education partners and other interested stakeholders, including the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.
Normally, a school will receive between 24 hours' and 48 hours' notice of a child protection and safeguarding inspection. However, the inspectorate reserves the right to conduct the inspections without any notice.
In each school selected, two inspections will be held - an initial inspection and a final one, usually within four to six weeks of each other. Separate reports from both inspections will be published by the Department of Education simultaneously.
Mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by teachers and greater oversight of child protection arrangements in schools were among a range of changes that came into effect with the introduction of child protection procedures for primary and post-primary schools in December 2017.
The 2017 procedures provide direction and guidance to schools in relation to meeting their obligations under the Children First Act 2015 and in the continued implementation of the best practice guidance in Children First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017.