The Department of Education inspectorate mostly conducts routine and unannounced visits to the country’s 4,000 primary and second-level schools. It also advises Education Minister Ruairi Quinn on policy, conducts research and helps schools improve on weaknesses.
The number of inspectors fell from 155 in 2008, the year before the public service recruitment ban took effect, to 127 at the end of last year. Between Jan 1 and Feb 29, another 10 left under the voluntary early retirement scheme in the public service.
The Department of Finance gave approval in 2010 for inspector numbers to be restored to 147, but there were just 132 in place this time last year.
In briefing documents given to Mr Quinn when he took office a year ago, his officials said inspectorate management was concerned about impact on the service, particularly at primary level.
The Department of Education said the inspectorate has been granted an exception to the hiring ban by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Two assistant chief inspectors will be replaced and the two vacancies likely to arise from those promotions will also be filled. However, it is unclear if or when they will be recruited.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said the inspectorate’s work and organisation has undergone significant change in the last two years so a credible, external inspection system can be operated.
“Significant work-practice change has occurred within the inspectorate and it has resulted in the organisation being able to maintain a significant level of intensive whole-school inspections despite falling staff numbers,” she said.
The inspectorate has been one of the Department of Education sections hit hardest by the recruitment ban, as inspectors are generally recruited at mid-career level or later, leaving them more likely to have an older profile and higher rates of retirement.
There were no retirements among the Department of Education’s eight assistant secretaries general in January and February, but other numbers to leave under the voluntary early retirement scheme include:
* 2 of 35 principal officers.
* 3 of 88 assistant principal officers.
* 5 of 151 higher executive officers.
* 3 of 39 staff officers.
* 2 of 295 clerical officers.