Chief Inspector's report 2016-2020, finds many positives in the quality of education provided for children and young people in schools, early learning and care settings, and other education settings in Ireland –

From Department of Education 
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Minister Foley welcomes publication of Chief Inspector’s Report 2016-2020, showing many strengths in Irish education system and identifying areas for development as the system emerges from COVID
The Minister for Education Norma Foley TD today (Wednesday 23 March 2022) welcomed the findings of the Chief Inspector’s Report 2016 – 2020 which provides an analysis of the quality of education provision in schools and other education settings in Ireland during the period September 2016 to December 2020. The report is underpinned by almost 10,000 inspections, in addition to advisory and research work carried out by Department of Education inspectors. It covers findings from a range of education contexts, including primary schools, special schools, post-primary schools, the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme, and other types of education provision.
The report also encompasses the work of education settings during the COVID-19 period – a time of unprecedented challenge for children and young people, their parents, education settings and all involved in education in Ireland.
This report shows clearly that children and young people in Irish schools, centres for education and other education settings, including early learning and care (ELC) settings, are benefiting greatly from the skills and commitment of education practitioners in terms of support for learning and wellbeing. The positive findings about educational standards in Ireland that the report sets out are also reflected in national and international measures of quality, which are also referenced in the report. While there are many positive findings, the Chief Inspector, Dr Harold Hislop, also identified a number of aspects of the Irish education system in need of development and improvement in the years ahead. These include:
Tackling the legacy of Covid – especially in relation to the learning and wellbeing of children and young people in the Irish education system
Curriculum – in particular the challenge of reforming the curriculum and assessment experience for students at Senior Cycle in post-primary schools
Inclusion and diversity – to ensure that all students, no matter what their background or educational need, can achieve to their fullest potential
Governance and leadership of schools – to move towards a more effective, coherent and sustainable approach to school governance and leadership.
Publishing the Report, Chief Inspector Dr Harold Hislop stated:
“Our inspections show that there are many strengths in the Irish education system at early years, primary and post-primary levels. I am pleased to be able to report positively on high quality learning, good teaching and support for children and young people in our education system. This provides a solid basis on which to build even better education provision for our children and young people in the years ahead.”
In responding to the report, Minister Foley said:
“I welcome this report, which draws from knowledge and research gained over several years of inspections across our education settings. The overall findings of the supports, efforts and achievement across our school communities are very positive, and acknowledge the great efforts of school and other education setting leaders, teachers and staff members, students, families and voluntary board members.
“There is much that is excellent in our education system. The Chief Inspector’s Report acknowledges all the good practice that takes place on a daily basis in our schools and other education settings in terms of quality leadership, management, teaching, learning, and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people. It also commends the work of education communities in ensuring our children and young people’s education could continue during the pandemic.
“The findings from this Chief Inspector’s Report together with positive findings for Ireland in international assessments of reading and Mathematics affirm the many strengths in education provision for children and young people from their earliest years right through their primary and post-primary education experiences.
“The report sets out areas in which further initiatives and supports are required to effect improvements – I am pleased that we have continuously used the data emerging from the Inspectorate to inform our plans, and so across the findings we are well advanced in plans to address emerging issues. Using the evidence gathered to continuously improve is a feature of our evaluation system at both individual school and education setting, and at national level. My officials and I will continue to use the findings to inform and enhance our work in supporting our schools and education settings.”
A copy of the report is available here
Some key findings of the Chief Inspector’s Report
Teaching and learning in primary schools
Overall: Findings in relation to the standard of teaching and learning in primary schools and special schools were generally positive. However, a clear need for more active and learner-centred teaching approaches and use of whole-school assessment strategies was identified.
English: The implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy has had a very positive impact on reading skills, particularly at primary level. This is also reflected in the very strong performance of Irish pupils in English reading in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016.
Irish: The quality of language use in Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna was deemed to be good overall. The findings about the standard of pupils’ Irish in English-medium schools are not as positive.
Mathematics: Inspection findings were generally positive about students’ achievements in Mathematics, although aspects for improvement were also identified. The targets set in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy were reached. Irish pupils also ranked highly in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019.
Teaching and learning in post-primary schools
Overall: The overall quality of teaching and learning is also of a high standard in post-primary schools. Inspection findings indicate that there is scope to improve outcomes for more able students and to increase the number of students achieving at the highest levels. These findings mirror those of the international assessment, PISA 2018, which found that while we continue to perform well above the OECD average in literacy, Mathematics and Science, there was just an average proportion of high-achievers in Science and a significantly lower proportion of high-performing students in Mathematics in Ireland,. Students also need further opportunities to learn collaboratively.
Assessment: The implementation of classroom based assessments (CBAs) in Junior Cycle has meant the use of a wider range of assessment approaches. Overall, there is scope to enhance the quality of feedback provided to students on their work.
Problem-solving skills: Curriculum design, teacher education and assessment policy, particularly in Mathematics, other STEM subjects and Business subjects, should take account of the need for students to develop dynamic problem-solving skills that will equip them to compete within a rapidly evolving and increasingly international labour market.
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme
Overall: The overall quality of provision in almost all early learning and care (ELC) settings delivering the ECCE programme is good or better. Where practice required improvement, challenges were most often related to the over-use of adult direction and insufficient opportunities for children to take the lead and use their initiative in activities.
Transitions: Further action is required to facilitate effective transitioning of children from pre-school to primary education.
Provision for children with special educational needs
Overall: The quality of teaching of children with special educational needs (SEN) in primary schools is good or very good in most instances. While there were fewer SEN inspections at post-primary level, it is of some concern that the quality of teaching and learning at this level was noted as just satisfactory in a significant minority of the lessons.
Provision for children with autism: A number of important aspects that relate to provision for children with autism require attention: these include enrolment practices, review of placements and the integration of learners attending special classes into mainstream provision.
Inclusion of and support for children and young people with special educational needs and those at risk of educational disadvantage
Literacy and Numeracy: In DEIS schools, both the planning and implementation of strategies for literacy and numeracy are positive overall. Aspects of numeracy require attention, particularly learners’ enjoyment of Mathematics.
Action planning: Action planning for improvement in DEIS schools should place additional focus on attendance, examination attainment (post-primary only) and making learning interesting for learners, particularly in the area of numeracy.
Leadership and management of schools
In primary, special and post-primary schools, the quality of governance, leadership and management is strong overall.
Those in leadership and management positions in settings and schools, particularly primary schools, need to place a more substantial focus on the leadership of teaching and learning.
Increased pace in diversifying school patronage is required to respond fully to the changing needs of society and a demand for educational provision that is not denominational.
The experience of COVID-19
Schools and settings demonstrated agility and responsiveness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools and teachers demonstrated increased capacity to use digital technologies to support learning.
As a result of school closures, pupils and students experienced anxiety and challenges to their wellbeing as well as gaps in their learning.
The Chief Inspector advises that schools should continue to identify where the most significant gaps in learning have occurred as a result of the period of school closures, and should engage in action planning to address these gaps in a systematic way.
The Chief Inspector’s Report also describes the involvement of the Inspectorate in the provision of Calculated Grades and Accredited Grades in 2020 and 2021, and the Report reflects on some lessons from that experience.
The findings in the Chief Inspector’s Report: September 2016 – December 2020 are based on information collected during a wide range of inspections and research, including:
• 2,443 inspections in early learning and care settings that provide the ECCE programme
• 92 Child Protection and Safeguarding Inspections (CPSIs)
• 3,511 inspections in primary and special schools
• 2,759 inspections in post-primary schools and centres for education
• 1,094 follow-through inspections
• over 28,000 pupil surveys at primary level and over 50,000 student surveys at post-primary level
• over 36,000 parental surveys at primary level and over 29,000 parental surveys at post-primary level
• thematic reports on Modern Foreign Languages, Digital Learning, STEM and on provision for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
• surveys of principals, teachers, parents, pupils and students, discussions with principals, and focus groups with pupils and students during the COVID-19 period.
The numbers participating in education system have peaked at primary level and are continuing to grow at post-primary level.
The period September 2016 to December 2020 experienced steady growth in expenditure on education, particularly in relation to provision for children and young people with special educational needs.
Due to COVID-19, schools and early learning and care (ELC) settings closed on 12 March 2020, with schools moving to remote teaching and learning for the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year. Schools and settings were also closed for a period in January-February of 2021.
PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) is an international study conducted periodically by the International Association for the ‎Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), and is managed at an international level by the ‎International Study Centre in Boston College. In Ireland, it tests the performance of primary school pupils in reading.
TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) is an international study conducted periodically by the International Association for the ‎Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). It tests the performance of Irish primary pupils and post-primary students in Maths and Science.
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international study conducted by the OECD every three years. It measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges
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