The following section contains information on the role of the Inspectorate in schools. The information provided is general in nature but links are provided to original documents and sources of information at various stages. These should be checked by members requiring more detailed information.
Inspection of schools has been a feature of the Irish education system since the foundation of the national school system in 1831. Although a single inspectorate is in place today, three separate branches previously existed responsible for the evaluation of national, secondary and vocational schools respectively. For a history of the inspectorate see “A History of Ireland’s School Inspectorate 1831 – 2008” by John Coolahan and Patrick O’Donovan published by Four Courts Press.
Functions and Responsibilities of Inspectors
The current functions of inspectors are set out in the Rules for National Schools, in various Department of Education and Skills circulars and in the Education Act (1998). Among the functions of inspectors are:
- to act as agents of the Minister for Education and Skills;
- to supply the Minister with information and advice on matters pertaining to individual schools and on educational matters in general;
- to co-operate with management authorities and teachers in the work of schools;
- to stimulate interest in curriculum content and methodology;
- to help teachers and others in need of assistance and advice;
- to advise teachers, particularly principal teachers, on the implementation of a suitable school programme;
- to assess the work of each school as a whole;
- to call the attention of teachers and school management to any breaches of rule;
- to carry out a general inspection annually of the work of teachers on probation;
- to review the work of a teacher under procedures provided for by Section 24 of the Education Act;
- to carry out a general inspection at the request of a teacher;
- to perform an inspection of schools for the purposes of a School Report or a Whole School Evaluation Report;
- to select highly successful schools which teachers from other schools may visit for the purpose of observing methods of organisation and teaching;
- to communicate personally, or in writing, with a board of management; and to carry out such other functions which the Minister may from time to time require.
- Inspectors are not authorised to decide on any question affecting a primary school or the general business of the Minister and may not give direct orders in a school except in a Model School. (Rule 161(2) Rules for National Schools).
The following are the main responsibilities of Inspectors:
- to carry out the functions (outlined above) through incidental and/or pre-arranged visits to schools;
- to evaluate and report on the work of schools;
- to assess the work of teachers; and
- to acquaint themselves with the work of the schools in their districts and with local circumstances which influence the work of both teachers and pupils.
Section 13 (3) of the Education Act (1998) requires an inspector to support and advise schools and teachers on educational matters. It relation to schools and teachers, the Act requires inspectors to visit schools and evaluate the organisation and operation of the school and the quality and effectiveness of the education provided, including the quality of teaching and effectiveness of individual teachers.
Inspectors are required to evaluate education standards in schools, assess the implementation and effectiveness of education programmes devised for pupils with special needs and assess the implementation of regulations.
An inspector is required to report to the Minister, or to the board, patron, parents of students and teachers, as appropriate, and as prescribed, on matters relating to the activities of a school and the needs of its pupils. Inspectors may also conduct assessments of the educational needs of pupils and advise the pupils, their parents and the school as appropriate.
Inspectors are required to advise teachers and boards of management in respect of the performance of their duties and, in particular, assist teachers in improving teaching methodologies and classroom management. They must also advise Parents’ Associations.
Inspectors are also required to evaluate the overall quality of education in the country, conduct research leading to policy formation and report to the Minister on educational initiatives. In particular they are required to evaluate and report on the teaching, development,
promotion and use of Irish in schools.
The Act specifically provides that an Inspector shall have all such powers as are necessary or expedient for the purpose of performing her/his functions. Inspectors must also be accorded every reasonable facility and co-operation by the board and the staff of a school.
Inspectors are required to carry out their functions in accordance with the procedures laid down in the Inspectorate Code of Practice (updated 2022) and the directions of the Minister. Section 13(9) of the Education Act provides that a teacher or a board of management, affected by an inspection may seek a review of that inspection.