Staff Involved in Monitoring Education Quality for Early Childhood and School Education
Under the Child Care Act 1991, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is charged with ensuring the health, safety and welfare of children attending pre-school services. Pre-school providers are required to notify the HSE that they are providing services. In addition, they are required to take all reasonable measures to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of pre-school children attending their service.
The Child Care (Pre-School Services) Regulations 2006 outline the standards of health, safety and welfare that must be in place before services can commence in any facility. The Regulations cover fundamental areas such as child/adult ratios, premises and facilities, child/floor space ratios, ventilation, sanitation, food, safety measures, facilities for rest and play, insurance and discipline. Overall, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has responsibility for these Regulations and for developing policy in this area. The HSE is required to inspect and regulate pre-school child care services.
Regulation 5 of the 2006 Regulations deals with the health, welfare and development of the child and states that: '…a person carrying on a pre-school service shall ensure that each child’s learning development and wellbeing is facilitated within the daily life of the service through the provision of the appropriate opportunities, experiences, activities, interaction, materials and equipment, having regard to the age and stage of development of the child and the child’s cultural context'.
When inspecting compliance in relation to Regulation 5, the HSE Pre-school Inspectorate examines the extent to which:
The personal care provided meets the basic needs of the infants and children;
Relationships around children are supported;
The physical and material environment supports the development of children;
The programme of activities and its implementation support children’s development.
As part of the implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, a joint team of HSE and DES inspectors were involved in work-shadowing arrangements in late 2011. A joint evaluation framework was agreed and pilot joint evaluations of the quality of provision (including the quality of early literacy and numeracy provision) were conducted in a number of state-funded Early Childhood Care and Education ECCE settings. A report of the outcomes from the pilot evaluations was presented to the DES and the DCYA. The first reports of education-focused inspections in pre-schools participating in the ECCE Programme implemented by the DCYA were published by the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills in June 2016.
These inspections examine the quality of pre-schools’ provision for children’s learning and report on the standards of young children’s learning in the early years’ settings. They provide information to parents about how well pre-schools are providing suitable learning experiences for young children and how well children’s needs are being met by pre-school staff. The clear, easy-to-read reports are available on the Department of Education and Skills website, and on the Department of Children and Youth Affairs website. During these inspections, the quality of the nature, range and appropriateness of the early educational experiences for children participating in the ECCE Programme is evaluated. The main activity of an EYEI inspection is the observation, by the inspector, of the processes and practices relating to children’s learning in one or more learning rooms or areas in the early-years setting.
The Inspectorate of the DES has responsibility for evaluating the quality of education provision in early-years settings participating in the ECCE Programme. Early-years Education-focused Inspection (EYEI) is carried out in accordance with section 13(3)(b) of the Education Act 1998 and in line with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Minister for Education and Skills and the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills.
The early-years education-focused inspections are part of a range of steps being taken by both departments to improve quality and standards in the early-years sector. As well as reporting on the quality of the provision in the pre-schools, the early-years’ inspectors advise staff in the pre-schools about how to improve their work with children. These education-focused inspections complement the regulatory inspections carried out by TUSLA, the regulatory body for early-years provision.
Practices and procedures involved in the early-years education-focused inspection (EYEI) process, effective since April 2016 are outlined in A Guide to Early-years Education-focused Inspection (EYEI) in Early-years Settings Participating in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme. The EYEI model of inspection operates in line with the Code of Practice for the Inspectorate.
Funding of €0.8m was initially provided by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to the Department of Education and Skills to fund the education-focused inspections in 2016.
The Inspectorate of the DES is headed by a Chief Inspector, who in turn is supported by two Deputy Chief Inspectors and a number of assistant chief inspectors, form the Senior Management Group (SMG). Each assistant chief inspector is responsible for one of the nine Business Units within the Inspectorate.
The Inspectorate is responsible for the evaluation of primary and post-primary schools and centres of education and for the provision of advice to the educational system and to policy makers. Essentially, the work of the Inspectorate is concerned with improving the quality of learning for children and young people in educational settings. Inspections are designed to evaluate key aspects of education provision in the educational setting inspected and to promote improvement in that setting. Inspectors engage in professional dialogue with practitioners about a selection of outcomes and signposts for practice during the inspection visit. Inspectors’ judgements about the quality of provision during an evaluation are informed by their observation of activities organised and facilitated by the practitioner(s) on the day(s) of the inspection.
Inspectors describe the quality of provision in a school using the Inspectorate’s quality continuum, shown below. The quality continuum provides examples of the language used by inspectors when evaluating and describing the quality of the school’s provision of each area.
Example of descriptive terms
Very good applies where the quality of the areas evaluated is of a very high standard. The very few areas for improvement that exist do not significantly impact on the overall quality of provision. For some schools in this category the quality of what is evaluated is outstanding and provides an example for other schools of exceptionally high standards of provision.
Very good; of a very high quality; very effective practice; highly commendable; very successful; few areas for improvement; notable; of a very high standard. Excellent; outstanding; exceptionally high standard, with very significant strengths; exemplary
Good applies where the strengths in the areas evaluated clearly outweigh the areas in need of improvement. The areas requiring improvement impact on the quality of pupils’ learning. The school needs to build on its strengths and take action to address the areas identified as requiring improvement in order to achieve a very good standard.
Good; good quality; valuable; effective practice; competent; useful; commendable; good standard; some areas for improvement
Satisfactory applies where the quality of provision is adequate. The strengths in what is being evaluated just outweigh the shortcomings. While the shortcomings do not have a significant negative impact they constrain the quality of the learning experiences and should be addressed in order to achieve a better standard.
Satisfactory; adequate; appropriate provision although some possibilities for improvement exist; acceptable level of quality; improvement needed in some areas
Fair applies where, although there are some strengths in the areas evaluated, deficiencies or shortcomings that outweigh those strengths also exist. The school will have to address certain deficiencies without delay in order to ensure that provision is satisfactory or better.
Fair; evident weaknesses that are impacting on pupils’ learning; less than satisfactory; experiencing difficulty; must improve in specified areas; action required to improve
Weak applies where there are serious deficiencies in the areas evaluated. Immediate and coordinated whole-school action is required to address the areas of concern. In some cases, the intervention of other agencies may be required to support improvements.
Weak; unsatisfactory; insufficient; ineffective; poor; requiring significant change, development or improvement; experiencing significant difficulties;
Requirements for Appointment
A person seeking employment as a pre-school services officer or Inspector within the HSE should have a recognised professional qualification in one or more of the following:
Environmental Health Officer B.Sc. (Environmental Health) or equivalent;
Level 7 Diploma in Social care or Child Care;
Social Work N.Q.S.W. or equivalent;
Montessori Teaching – Diploma Montessori (Advanced Level 2) or A.M.I.
The person should also be familiar with childcare, child development practices and inspection procedures.
The recruitment process for Department of Education and Skills inspectors is based on an open procedure organised by the Public Appointments Service (PAS). Applicants for a position in the Inspectorate must have a recognised relevant first or second class honours primary degree (Level 8, National Framework of Qualifications). Applicants must also have a recognised teaching qualification and at least five years’ satisfactory service as a teacher subsequent to the award of the recognised teaching qualification and the awarding of full recognition which is now within the remit of the Teaching Council (or equivalent body in another jurisdiction). In addition, applicants are required to have a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the Irish education system and have excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
Conditions of Service
Health Service Executive (HSE) pre-school inspectors are employees of the HSE and, as such, are recruited in accordance with the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. Their terms and conditions of employment are determined by the HSE, with the approval of the Minister for Health and the consent of the Minister for Finance.
Department of Education and Skills inspectors are appointed on a permanent basis, with civil servant status, by the Minister for Education and Skills. The terms and conditions of employment are in accordance with Civil Service Regulation Acts, 1956 & 2005.