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Teachers and principals could face a review every year

THE chief schools inspector has raised the prospect of annual reviews of the performance of teachers and principals.

Harold Hislop pointed out that, unlike some countries, Ireland has no system of regular evaluation of school staff.

In contrast, annual performance management and development reviews were commonplace in the civil and public service, he said.

While teachers' work does come under scrutiny in inspections carried out by the Department of Education, these are irregular and have a wider focus.

Mr Hislop said the purpose of regular performance reviews would not be "hard accountability but to foster genuine improvement for the individual and school".

The chief inspector was speaking at an Irish EU presidency conference in Dublin on how better assessment and evaluation in schools can improve teaching and learning.

School inspections and student assessment are common mechanisms used to measure and improve the quality of schooling, and teacher appraisal is another.

In Ireland, teachers on probation are subject to assessment and there is also a formal process for dealing with under-performing teachers.

Otherwise, there is no procedure under which the competence or the standards of an individual teacher's work are regularly and systematically evaluated within the school, he said.

He also referred to the importance of ensuring that school principals were effective. While there had been instances where the leadership of schools changed following inspections, there are no regular formal performance appraisals or performance contracts for principals, he said.

A recent report from the OECD highlighted significant variations in approaches to teacher evaluations in different countries and stated that it was worrying that in some it was barely happening.

Mr Hislop said it was not unreasonable to ask why some type of formal teacher appraisal, led by the school principal, was not among the components of Ireland's evaluation and assessment arrangements.

Effective teachers would recognise the need to reflect on the quality of their own practice, would accept a responsibility to contribute to professional conversations about improvement in the school, would be open to having their practice viewed and commented upon by colleagues and would accept routine observation and appraisal of their work by principals, he said.

Mr Hislop said the term teacher appraisal was "quite foreign in the Irish context" but the terminology should not get in the way of serious consideration of the issues.

There were well-documented benefits for both teachers and learners, where teachers routinely observe and discuss each others' practices, he said.

"It is very hard indeed for principals to tackle instances of teacher under-performance if observation and professional conversations are not part of the school's routine" he said.

Mr Hislop gave clear indication that he had no definitive view on whether a formalised teacher appraisal system was necessary and said Ireland "may or may not choose" to go down that road. But, "at the very least, we have to engender a culture of professional dialogue about teaching, learning and standards in schools".

A spokesperson for the INTO said teachers continually turned below average investment into above average outcomes for pupils by continually improving their work, collaborating with colleagues, informing parents and delivering a professional service.

The ASTI said assessing the quality of teachers' work in the classroom was undertaken regularly through school inspections, while school self-evaluation, currently being introduced in schools, includes teacher self-reflection.

The ASTI said it was happy to engage with the chief inspector in relation to the development of teacher self-reflection practices, "however, it must be pointed out that review practices of this nature cannot be introduced in isolation and require extensive investment in upskilling and other supports for schools".

Irish Independent