Satisfactory? Could do better, say inspectors
Parents and indeed teachers can learn as much, if not more, about how their school rates by reading the reports written by Department of Education inspectors about other schools.
Reading that the teaching of English or maths is satisfactory may gratify some, but another report will use the phrases such as good, or very good, all the way up to excellent.
In the inspectors' lexicon, "satisfactory" comes ahead of fair, and would be roughly the same as "fully appropriate provision although possibilities for improvement exist", as listed in the table (left).
That means it would fall into the second performance category, the one where a school's strengths are regarded as outweighing its weaknesses.
With the benefit of the sequence of descriptors used by inspectors, the more reports you read, the more nuances you see and the more insight can be gleaned about the judgements they make.
It is only in the last decade that school inspection reports have been made public. The prospect triggered a lot of apprehension among teachers amid fears that it would lead to league tables, and some unfair comparisons. That was never the intention, and it has not happened, but useful recommendations have been made to schools in the interests of all who pass through its doors, teachers included.
Overwhelmingly, the reports paint a very positive picture of the Irish education system. The thrust of them is to be supportive, although it is probably fair to say that they have become more hard-hitting in recent years.
But, accountability in education, as in other areas of life, is important, and what the publication of the reports on the department's website has done is to give parents a much more transparent view of their child's school, or prospective school, than ever before.
The evolution of the inspection regime in recent years has also seen parents and students, brought directly into the process, through the use of questionnaires at the time of a Whole School Evaluation, to give inspectors a broader view of how a school is performing.
The increasing frequency of and growing variety in the type of inspections now being carried out make for a more robust system. But that alone will not drive improvements and schools cannot perform at optimum levels without adequate investment, including well-trained and resourced teachers, decent buildings and facilities and a curriculum that meets the needs of students.
Once on the department's site, you can choose the appropriate report or simply type the full name and area of your child's school into the search box in the top right of the page.