O'Connor, Patrick Paul
The policy, process and impact of whole school inspection at primary level in the Republic of Ireland from the perspective of some inspectors and teachers.
The Open University.
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This thesis explores whole school inspection in the Republic of Ireland since its inception in 1976. It is located within the tradition of qualitative research and examines government policy. the process of inspecting and the impact of the operation on selected schools from the vantage point of participating inspectors and teachers.
Ihe research is centred on three primary schools that underwent whole school inspection during the school year 1998-1999. A total of twenty teachers in all together with the three inspectors who conducted the inspections were interviewed immediately after the inspections, they were allowed a wide measure of freedom to express their views on the operation and their responses were analyzed. The senior management of the primary inspectorate was also interviewed and their views on official policy and on the efficacy of whole school inspection in general were elicited. The schools were revisited some six to nine months later and the teachers were once more interviewed in an effort to determine the level of impact made by the inspections and to gauge any change of view.
What emerges is a lack of consensus among the key players on what constitutes the primary purpose of whole school inspection. In general the teachers saw it primarily as a surveillance exercise that generated high levels of anxiety, whereas the inspectors were more inclined to emphasise the developmental dimension. The teachers were unanimous in their perception of the inspectors as persons of sensitivity. courtesy and credibility and appreciated the fact that they engaged actively with the children in the classroom. However, they declared that the inspections had made little or no useful impact, and the field inspectors expressed a similar opinion. Given the lack of consensus on what constitutes the role and function of inspectors, the research questions the validity of this judgement. It is argued that whole school inspection is best seen as an exercise located within the naturalist paradigm. and that its impact is percolative in nature and not readily amenable to positivist measurement. While acknowledging shortcomings especially in the area of reporting, the problematic nature of identifying the direction of causality is discussed in support of this position. Arising from this, suggestions for development are offered and these centre on a vision of whole school inspection as an operation that seeks to validate assisted self-review arrangements by the provision of high quality evaluation and strategic advice. The lesson for the Department of Education and Science is that school self-evaluation ought to be promoted on a systematic basis nationally. 'The implication for inspectors is that they should be released from the discharge of great many duties that distract them from their core work of providing information and analysis on the individual school and on the system in general. It is suggested that to the extent this happens whole school inspection will be nearer the realisation of its potential.
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