SECOND-LEVEL schools are to start getting surprise visits from Department of Education inspectors.
Teachers will only know about it when an inspector arrives in the school, rather than having advance notice and time to prepare.
It is already happening in primary schools and is part of a move to get an accurate picture of what is going on in the classroom and improve standards, where necessary.
Unannounced inspections in primary schools have produced some shocking findings, with one-in-four teachers found not to have lessons prepared on the day.
A report last year on the inspections carried out in 450 primary schools in 2010 also revealed that teaching practice in about one-in-six classes was not satisfactory.
Those inspections covered 800 English lessons and 500 lessons in Maths
There is an increasing focus on the quality of the education system arising from the findings of the OECD global survey last year that showed that Irish 15-year-olds are only average in maths and science and have fallen from fifth to 17th place in literacy.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn plans to roll out the unannounced inspections in the 730 second-level schools before the end of the year.
Ahead of the implementation he has started a consultation process with the education partners including school managers, teacher unions and parent representatives about the arrangements.
Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Peter MacMenamin said they would be "engaging with this matter along the other education partners and will be bringing the views and concerns of our members to the consultation process."
The most significant form of school inspections are Whole School Evaluations (WSE), which take three to four days and look at every aspect of school life including management style, facilities, paperwork and teaching. Schools are given advance notice of these.
In contrast, the unannounced inspections are one-day events focussing entirely on teaching and learning and have the advantage of allowing inspectors to provide immediate feedback to teachers and principals.
Some teachers may be uncomfortable with the idea of a surprise visit, but research has shown that providing advance notice of an inspection can be a source of stress.
The Minister said the unannounced inspections played a role in assuring quality in the education system and said they would bring benefits to the post-primary sector including supporting the valuable work that individual schools did.
"The inspections will provide us with authentic information about the everyday learning experience for students in schools," said Mr Quinn.