Northern Ireland

Warning from officials as school inspection protest enters third year

Inspectors have not been able to "assure the classroom experiences for learners" in some schools due to industrial action by teachers
Inspectors have not been able to "assure the classroom experiences for learners" in some schools due to industrial action by teachers

PARENTS deserve to know if their children are getting a quality education, officials have said, as teachers' refusal to cooperate with inspections enters a third year.

The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) has been unable to complete hundreds of school reports.

All main teaching unions withdrew cooperation as part of action short of a strike which began in January 2017.

They rejected a pay offer that would see staff receive no across-the-board rise for 2015/16 and a one per cent cost of living uplift for 2016/17. Talks are continuing.

Union guidance to teachers says inspectors "should respect your right to take lawful industrial action and retreat from the room. Do not feel intimidated by the ETI - they are a visitor to your school and should behave accordingly".

It adds that non-cooperation includes preparation for and participation in inspections, responding to ETI communications and attending workshops or training events.

Since the action began, inspectors have begun visits as usual but many reports have gaps and contain no overall inspection grade.

In many reports they also warn parents they cannot guarantee their children are being kept safe.

In the period covered by the last chief inspector's report, 2016-2018, there were only 277 schools - about 39 per cent of those visited - that cooperated fully with ETI.

A total of 429 schools either cooperated partially or not at all.

The Department of Education has warned that as action continued, ETI had been unable to return to schools "which have been evaluated as having a high priority for future inspection with no further notice".

"The ETI have not been able to assure the classroom experiences for learners in a number of primary and post-primary schools between January 2017 and November 2018, potentially affecting some 43,000 learners - 14 per cent of the pupil population," a spokeswoman said.

Further data covering the period of the financial year 2018-2019 is expected to be published soon.

"Our children and young people and their parents/carers deserve better. They deserve to know if their child is getting a good education and the quality of education in their local school," the spokeswoman added.

"Inspection leads to improvement and provides the assurances needed by the education and training system. The work of inspectors promotes improvement, based on first-hand evidence, to affirm what is working well and to challenge, appropriately, what is not good enough - and, as a result - learners get a better education."