Is there a species on the planet, with the possible exception of suicide bombers, less loved than school inspectors? It’s one thing to read about them in Irish short stories, where the schoolmaster likes a nip of whiskey and the kindly inspector turns a blind eye; it’s another to encounter them in their suppurating flesh. My working life involved weekly contact with teachers. Never once did I hear a member of the profession say ‘That visit by the inspectors really helped me’. That’s because inspectors don’t offer help – just judgement. They point to deficiencies in the way the school is run or in the performance of a teacher or in the cohesion of a school department. But don’t look for advice from them on how to do better: they won’t give it. Not allowed, they’ll tell you.
And while I’ve never met a teacher who was helped by an inspector, I’ve met quite a few who spoke with quavering voices of the stress the inspectors’ visit put on her/him. Some I know became ill and missed months of school as a result. In short, if you’d like to inflict damage on your local school and the teachers who work there, arrange a visit from a Department of Education team of inspectors.
Or that may not be necessary, if we’re to believe latest reports. If they have their way, school inspectors will soon be turning up at schools unannounced. Knock knock, who’s there, it’s the inspectors! The reason they’re opting for unannounced visits is, they say, is that giving several weeks’ notice can be too stressful for teachers.
Ha ha and ha-ha-ha-ha. How very droll. This isn’t by any stretch of the imagination about avoiding stress – it’s about laying it on. You know how we’re always being warned the Real IRA or Al Quaida or someone of that nature is about to launch another offensive and to beware? The inspectorate may not bring primed explosives with them but the principle is the same: keep the population in a state of constant fear and anxiety. That way, they’ll be too busy fretting to have time to wonder if the whole stupid system of inspection shouldn’t be abolished.
And one last point: please, do us a favour. Don’t blame Caitriona Ruane for this anti-learning system. The inspectorate teams who suck the oxygen from learning were up and sucking years before Caitriona arrived on the scene. What’s more, until teachers and the public stand up to them and yell ‘Enough already!’ they’ll go on doing so long after she’s gone.