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Inquiry Into The Education And Training Inspectorate And The School Improvement Process 17/6/2014

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I joined the Committee as the report was being prepared, but I want to thank all who contributed to its compilation, including the many who gave generously of their time, particularly our Committee Clerk and support staff.  It is an excellent and very detailed report that should be seen as a constructive step towards addressing this concern.

The Committee report states that we support a "professional, independent, broadly-based, balanced" inspection process.  The Committee sees inspection as an essential component of school improvement.  The Committee, in supporting inspection, did not see inspection as a solution in itself.  It feels that inspection should be accompanied by support initiatives; that it should be an encouragement to schools when their results are good; and that that good practice should be shared widely.

Before I moved into politics exclusively, my experience was in the realm of assessment for Investors in People and national vocational qualifications.  For Investors in People and NVQs, the process is a holistic one against a national standard, a benchmark and a framework of excellence.  For Investors in People, in particular, an improvement process is required.  However, that improvement process itself requires self-evaluation and a self-evaluation infrastructure in the organisation, which, in this case, is the school.  The Committee is looking at and recommending self-evaluation.  For vocational qualifications, assessment is about increasing skills, enhancing knowledge and raising standards, whether at NVQ level 1 or NVQ level 5 up to university level.  That falls into line with recommendation 12 of the report, which should be strongly considered.

Features of the NVQ and Investors in People look at the issue in a holistic way, whether it is in commerce, industry or a statutory body.  To achieve the standards, bodies are required to have good communication, transparency and consistency, and to offer support and constructive feedback around improvement to meet standards, and that requires support.  Again, the ethos of the report indicates that all of those things — good communication, transparency, feedback and support through professional assistance — are positive features that should be part of an assessment of any organisation. 

Recommendation number 15 — I will finish with this one, Mr Speaker — looks at that ethos and suggests that the name of the inspectorate should be changed to the Northern Ireland Education Improvement Service, which again hones in on the fact that we want to improve the inspection system and that improvement should be its ethos. 

As well as a call for improvement, there is also a need for independence of thought that is also part of the ethos of the report.

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