Report on the Inquiry into the Education and Training Inspectorate and School Improvement Process
Date: 28 May 2014
Reference: NIA 132/11-15
Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/15 - Fifth Report
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Following consideration of: Departmental proposals to enhance the powers of the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI); concerns raised in respect of the reported high stakes nature of school inspection; and the reported absence of consistency in the measurement of the value added by schools, the Committee undertook an inquiry into ETI and the school improvement process.
The Committee’s scrutiny was informed by: numerous written and oral submissions; stakeholder events involving District Inspectors and Associate Assessors; a school visit and the OECD report on evaluation and assessment frameworks in Northern Ireland.
The Committee agreed that professional, independent, broadly-based, balanced inspection of schools is and should continue to be an essential component of the school improvement process. The Committee also found that although inspection is essential, it is neither reasonable nor sensible to expect schools to improve outcomes for pupils by simply repeatedly inspecting their effectiveness. The Committee agreed that the other essential component of the school improvement process was support for schools and that in order to ensure equitable provision, this should be better aligned with the inspection function as is the case in other jurisdictions.
The Committee found it difficult to reconcile the very different reported experiences and perceptions of the school inspection process. The Committee felt that this was in some part owing to poor or unforeseen inspection outcomes and a high stakes environment created by concerns relating to school sustainability. However, the Committee also felt that schools had reasonable concerns that would be addressed by providing: improved communication; more transparent practices in respect of inspection moderation; and a more independent complaints procedure coupled with more reliable school feedback channels.
In respect of school inspections, the Committee agreed that a more collaborative approach between ETI and schools was preferable and that this would be facilitated by: greater use of 3rd party questionnaires; revised inspection reports (written in plain English for parents while providing more detail for schools); use of less pejorative descriptors; a consistent role for District Inspectors on inspection teams with more time for pastoral support; and a revised approach to the inspection of immersion settings in line with other jurisdictions.
The Committee considered at some length the issues and the sensitivities associated with the measurement of the value added by schools both in terms of a formative pupil-based measure and as a summative indicator of school or system effectiveness. The Committee agreed with GTCNI that to inform the assessment of the value added by schools, a standardised attainment baseline was required. The Committee also agreed with OECD that further work was needed by the Department to engage teachers and win their trust for the development of a measure of the value added by schools which properly recognises school context.
The Committee recognised the significant potential benefit of enhanced parental engagement with school improvement and the self-evaluation process. The Committee therefore strongly supported – in line with OECD suggestions – the establishment of a platform for representative parental consultation. The Committee felt that this was essential to address sometimes limited parental understanding and involvement in the school improvement process.
The Committee felt that its recommendations would go some way to address adverse or ill-informed perceptions of school inspection and school improvement. In order to mark the significant changes that are proposed and as part of the process of persuading stakeholders that a more collaborative and conciliatory approach is to be adopted to school inspection for improvement in future, the Committee felt that the realigned school inspection and improvement service should be rebranded as the Northern Ireland Education Improvement Service (NIEIS). Additionally and to permit the NIEIS the freedom to: highlight good practice; identify improvement actions; set its own agenda for school improvement through inspection; undertake longitudinal studies and comment on Departmental policies, the Committee felt that the NIEIS should be established in statute as independent of the Department of Education.
Summary of Recommendations
1. The Committee recommends that in line with Every School a Good School, the Department should adequately resource school improvement services so as to equitably support improvingoutcomes in all schools across Northern Ireland not just for those in or near Formal Intervention.
2. The Committee recommends that school improvement services should be aligned with school inspection in a single organisation in line with the practice in Scotland. The governance arrangements for the new inspection and improvement service must ensure the professional independence of inspection with an appropriate separation between this and the improvement function – as is the case in Education Scotland.
3. The Committee recommends that ETI better communicates its inspection methodology and clearly sets out the process of external moderation for school inspections – indicating how the latter has been applied in each individual inspection report and that it desists forthwith in sharing draft inspection reports with DE or maintaining anything other than transparent communication channels with all stakeholders.
4. The Committee recommends that the school inspection complaints procedure should explicitly allow for the possibility of a revision to an inspection finding and that consideration should be given to a reformed school inspection complaints procedure which would allow for investigation by personnel outside of the inspectorate or the Department of Education.
5. The Committee recommends that the inspectorate co-operates with GTCNI in the redesigning of post-inspection surveys and customer service assessments so as to ensure independent and robust assessment of the school inspection and improvement service.
6. The Committee recommends that anonymous questionnaires should only be included in a school inspection when the need for such a measure has been identified by inspectors and in the absence of a reliable, independent (parent, pupil, staff and governor) survey which has been undertaken by the school as part of the School Development Plan process.
7. The Committee recommends that in line with the practice in other jurisdictions, alternative inspection report publication measures should be adopted – specifically two school inspection reports should be produced – the first should be a detailed, formative inspection report which would be made available to the school only; the second should be a plain English, high level, public domain summative report which informs parental understanding of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.
8. The Committee recommends that in line with the practice in other jurisdictions, less pejorative descriptors be adopted for public domain summative inspection reports and accompanied by plain English statements of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.
9. The Committee recommends that in order to fully exploit the unique good practice experience and understanding of school context of District Inspectors, they should always have a role in the inspection of schools in their districts and should be allocated sufficient District Time to allow adequate provision of pastoral support for schools.
10. The Committee recommends that the Department should review its inspection practices for the IME sector and bring them into line with the inspection of immersion education provision in other jurisdictions – specifically the requirement to undertake inspections of IME schools and units in the Irish language.
11. The Committee recommends that a reliable standardised baseline of attainment at key pupil junctures be introduced in order to provide a common objective formative measure of pupil value added by schools in all educational phases. The Committee further recommends that the Department engage a broad and representative cross-section of teachers to determine the best use of the baseline and the selection of other factors in the development of a robust indicator of school effectiveness which would complement other existing measures.
12. The Committee recommends that in line with the OECD findings, measures should be adopted to more effectively promote a self-evaluation culture supported by training and guidance for school staff and governors; advice from District Inspectors; and including greater engagement with parents.
13. The Committee recommends that District Inspectors should take a greater role in the mentoring, auditing and quality assuring of self-evaluation in schools. The Committee further recommends that in the longer term, when self-evaluation is effectively embedded in schools, consideration should be given to a revised inspection regime.
14. The Committee recommends that, in line with OECD recommendations, the Department should establish a parental consultation platform and that this should be used to inform the development of understandable and accessible information on school inspection and school improvement for parents and should also be used to explore enhanced engagement options for parents relating to school and education policy.
15. The Committee recommends that the Education and Training Inspectorate should be renamed as the “Northern Ireland Education Improvement Service (NIEIS)”. The explicit focus of the rebranded organisation would be improvement through inspection.
16. The Committee recommends that the new “Northern Ireland Education Improvement Service” be statutorily independent from the Department of Education and that research be undertaken to establish the most appropriate governance model for the new organisation. The new model should allow the independent organisation to inspect school effectiveness; advise impartially on DE policy and undertake supporting longitudinal data analysis studies of the effectiveness of education policy in all phases.