Exploring the Changing Face of School Inspections

Martin BROWN, Gerry MCNAMARA, Joe O’HARA and Shivaun O’BRIEN****
*School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University.
**School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University.
***Prof. Dr., Joe O’Hara, School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University.
****School of Policy and Practice, Institute of Education, Dublin City University. e-mail: shivaun.obrien@dcu.ie

Background: A number of countries have had school inspection for many years. The origins of these systems date back to the nineteenth century when mass public schooling was introduced, and education and other emerging public services were required to comply with centrally mandated rules and programmes. In contrast, many countries across the world have only introduced school inspection over recent decades as the perceived importance of educational quality as a driver of economic competitiveness has become influential in state policy. International bodies such as the OECD and, in particular, comparative evaluations of education systems such as PISA have led to a constant stream of interventions and reforms designed to deliver higher student performance outcomes. These factors have driven the growth of inspection.
Purpose of Study: The purpose of this study is to provide an analysis of the factors that have led to the rapid rise of inspection as a school governance mechanism. It goes on to examine how developing conceptualisations of the ways in which inspection can be employed to achieve the range of outcomes with which it is tasked are leading to an evolving toolkit of inspection approaches and models. A number of these are examined in detail with a view not only to description but in terms of whether some of the demands that they place on schools are, in fact, realistic in practice.
Sources of Evidence: This study used document analysis of policy documents and existing research to deconstruct factors relating to the changing face of school inspection since the late 1990’s.
Main Argument: Formal processes of school inspection have become virtually universal. It is also argued that inspection, as it is now widely understood and practiced, has moved quite far from its historical roots and purposes. Inspection is now a complex component of wider modern concepts of public sector management and governance including quality, improvement, accountability, transparency and cost effectiveness.
Conclusions: Historically inspection was largely about compliance with rules and to an extent to judge the work of individual teachers. Now, at least, in theory, it is as much concerned with creating a regulatory framework within which schools as organisations can enjoy greater autonomy while simultaneously being held responsible for student performance outcomes.

Keywords: School inspection, accountability, school self-evaluation, governance, school development.