Some schools are going a decade or more between visits from inspectors.
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s education committee is holding an “inspecting the inspectors” probe and is looking at planned new robust powers for the North’s Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).
It is also examining changes elsewhere, which have made other school inspectorates more like “improvement partners” than inspectors.
In its latest evidence session, the committee heard from campaign group ParentsOutLoud. The group says, with visits from inspectors so few and far between, there is a danger that classroom standards will slip. In Belfast, there was a period of nine years between inspections at Knockbreda High School while the most recent report available for the large Methodist College dates back 12 years.
The group also revealed that just 15 per cent of post-primary schools received a full inspection in 2013.
At this rate, each post-primary school can expect to receive a full inspection once every seven years, on average. In contrast, Ofsted inspected 27.5 per cent of all maintained schools in England in a recent 12-month period, meaning that schools there could expect to be inspected once every four years, on average.
“These statistics really beggar belief,” said Dr Liz Fawcett, Northern Ireland representative of ParentsOutLoud. “Children only get one chance at a school education and it’s vital that there’s a robust external inspection system to ensure that their teaching is up to scratch.”
The ETI is now rolling out a new proportionate and risk-based inspection strategy over the next six years. An important feature of this strategy is that all schools will have a formal inspection activity at least once in a three-year period.
“This will allow ETI to deploy more intensive resources to schools where improvement is required while recognising, endorsing and disseminating innovative practice in the best schools,” the Department of Education said. “All targets remain on track for successful completion.”