A Whole School Evaluation (WSE) evaluates the quality of the school’s management and leadership; the quality of teaching, learning and assessment; and the school’s own planning and self-review. Schools are given a few week’s notice prior to the evaluation taking place, which can last between two to four days depending on the school’s size.
The WSE report “is not that hard to read and you’ll get a really good sense very quickly about what is going right and what is not going so right within the school,” says Prof Joe O’Hara of the School of Policy and Practice in DCU’s Institute of Education.
“It’s a really good resource in terms of parents getting an idea of how a school is operating and getting a relatively objective outsider’s view of that against a fairly detailed set of criteria that the inspector has developed.”
A good place to start, once you’ve located the required report, is to go towards the back of it where the Inspectorate’s Quality Continuum is outlined.
Here, the inspector’s rating of Very Good; Good; Satisfactory; Fair; and Weak are described in detail. Once you understand what each rating means, go back to page three where the summary and recommendations sections are located. These are easily digestible and talk about the teaching, learning and general standards within the school. From there, the report goes into much greater detail about the quality of school leadership and management; the quality of teaching and learning, and where it can improve.
The WSE itself is typically around 12-15 pages long and does not take very long to read. An interesting part of it is the school’s own response to the inspector’s findings. This section is a chance for the school to say whether or not it felt the report was fair and accurate and it also outlines what steps the school has taken since the WSE, or plans to take, to improve on areas highlighted by the inspector.
For even more insight into the WSE you could also read the department’s Guide to Inspection in Post Primary Schools for detailed information on the inspector’s framework (education.ie/en/Publications/Inspection-Reports-Publications/Evaluation-Reports-Guidelines/A-Guide-to-Inspection-in-Post-Primary-Schools.pdf) and how the evaluation is carried out.
Most schools in Ireland rate as good or very good but if a school get a satisfactory rating or below, should you discount it?
“It depends on you,” says O’Hara. “It might be satisfactory in one particular aspect that you think on balance is not necessarily the most important aspect for your child. Or it might be something you think is absolutely critically important and therefore you would chose to look at a different school. It goes back to what you think is important in terms of the school and what you think suits your child. So if there is an aspect in the school environment that isn’t up to the standard that you really want, is that something that you think will require you to look somewhere else, or is that something the school might be able to work on?
“That is where the school’s response is important. The school might recognise it’s only satisfactory and they might have put a plan in place, or the school might say, ‘Yes we realise this but the reason we have that problem is because we haven’t been given the resources to address it’. So you have to do a little bit more reading in the context of that and say, well where does this emerge from?”
All WSE’s can be found online at education.ie/en/Publications/Inspection-Reports-Publications/Whole-School-Evaluation-Reports-List/.
Along with WSE’s, there are a number of other reports available such as subject specific inspections, programme evaluations (ie Transition Year, Leaving Cert Applied, Leaving Cert Vocational Programme) and evaluation of the provision for students with additional and special educational needs. All of these can be accessed at: education.ie/en/Publications/Inspection-Reports-Publications/.