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Improving our schools

THE Department of Education and Skills is getting much tougher in its public comments on underperforming schools.

The first evaluation report appeared on its website in February 2006 and since then a total of 3,862 have been published. The initial Whole School Evaluations were known as "WSE Lite" and were often dismissed as being too bland. Parents had to read between the lines to divine where the weaknesses in a school were. Not any more.

Praise is generously given where it is due, but so is blame. Witness the comment made about one school head in the latest batch of reports: "The principal operates on a restricted educational vision. He displays significant difficulties with leadership and management skills". And what of the school that is told its second teacher of Irish has neither Irish as a degree subject nor sufficient competence in oral Irish to teach the language? How would parents feel when they read of poor communications in their children's school where discipline problems were having "a negative effect on staff morale"?

The names of the schools are given but not those of individuals. Some of the reports are embarrassing for particular teachers, principals and members of boards of management who might be easily identifiable in their locality. However, it is important to remember that they are charged with the education of children in their care and if they are not delivering, parents have a right to expect that weaknesses are addressed and improvements made where necessary.

We are fortunate in this country in that teaching attracts better-qualified applicants than many other countries and that we have a generally good education system. But not all 4,000 primary and second-level schools are performing satisfactorily and increasingly they are coming under the spotlight of the department's inspectors. Their reports bear little relationship to the often crude inspection reports published in the UK and, for the most part, are constructive.

In the future, the emphasis will be on management, leadership and learning and parents and pupils will be given an opportunity to voice their opinions through questionnaires. The new style reports will affirm good practice, identify areas needing development, provide clear recommendations for improvements and be informative for parents and the wider community.

Irish Independent