School bullying, inspectors, and the Oireachtas February 26, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Education, Irish Politics, Oireachtas business.
Last week, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection heard evidence from senior managers in the Inspectorate at the Department of Education and Skills. The hearing followed the publication last November of the Chief Inspector’s Report for 2010–2012 (119 pages, pdf here)
Among the points he made, the Chief Inspector, Dr Harold Hislop, told the Committee that the Inspectorate now uses anonymised questionnaires completed by students as part of its process of gathering data to assess a school’s performance. And one item he chose to highlight how that was the following.
One of the interesting things from the pupil questionnaires and student questionnaires is the extent to which Irish students feel safe in schools. There are very high percentages there — often over 90%. What is really interesting is when the questionnaire data comes in for an individual school, if that is significantly lower than we would expect normally, we would immediately say to the school that it might think it is dealing well with bullying but there is clear evidence that it needs to go back and go through its anti-bullying lessons and make sure that children know who to talk to and who to report bullying to. It can be quite a shock sometimes for a school because when we interview those involved they say the school has an excellent anti-bullying policy and it is doing an excellent job on that but when we get the data they throw up a completely different set of questions.
None of the TDs or Senators questioned what that rule-of-thumb means in practice (although the meeting suffered from both being rushed and clashing with a Seanad sitting):
- None of them asked what the threshold is for the Inspectors to come to the view that enough students feel safe in their school.
- None of the TDs or Senators asked if it is a single figure or changes in different circumstances.
- None of them asked if this is matched with or adjusted for the presence in the school of any vulnerable groups.
- None of the TDs or Senators asked if any further probing is done in an inspection to see why any student feels unsafe in the school.
As I understand the Chief Inspector’s comments, if the school has a small number of — say — Traveller students each of whom is bullied, or openly gay students none of whom feels safe, or students with a severe lisp all of whom have to put up with hell from one or more of their classmates, the Inspectorate does not identify their lack of feeling safe as a problem until the constitute a sizeable group.
That seems to me to be a weak model of assessing an essential aspect of school safety. And it was poor oversight by the Oireachtas Committee that this was not examined by it.