EQI: Centre for Evaluation, Quality & Inspection
EQI: Centre for Evaluation,Quality & Inspection

2021 - Publications

Embedding Self-Evaluation in School Routines

Gerry McNamara, Martin Brown, Sarah Gardezi, Joe O'Hara, Shivaun O'Brien and Craig Skerritt (2021) Sage Open 11(4): First Published October 26, 2021

School self-evaluation (SSE) has emerged as a widely used approach to school evaluation in recent decades. This has occurred in the context of what is referred to as “New Public Management,” an element of which seeks to empower public institutions to make decisions locally about improving their processes and standards. Inspection regimes in many countries have developed legislative, methodological, and support mechanisms for schools to carry out SSE. This paper, by using the evolution of the SSE process in Irish education, analyses the efficacy of SSE by exploring teachers and school principals’ perceptions of both the challenges and supports concerning the integration of SSE in their schools. Results derived from this study suggest that respondents were, overall, fully aware of the support services available to them. However, support capacity challenges also emerged, in particular as it relates to data use and target setting. Importantly, it is argued that since there are striking resemblances between SSE as it has developed in Ireland and other systems, the challenges and solutions identified in this paper will have wide application in other contexts.


For improvement, accountability, or the economy? Reflecting on the purpose(s) of school self-evaluation in Ireland

Gerry McNamara, Craig Skerritt, Joe O'Hara, Shivaun O'Brien & Martin Brown (2021) Journal of Educational Administration and History Published online: 20 Oct 2021


This paper reflects on compulsory school self-evaluation in Ireland. It sets important historical and contemporary context by documenting the development of a culture of evaluation in Ireland throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium before charting the rise of school self-evaluation during the austere economic conditions of post-2008 Ireland. Three key reasons are proposed for the rise of school self-evaluation: the influence of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the perceived need for more accountability, and the drive towards self-managing schools. In debating the purpose of school self-evaluation in Ireland it is put forward that it is not underpinned by any single logic, but an assemblage of overlapping logics interwoven by complements and contradictions. It is concluded that while improvement is predominantly promoted in official discourse, it is accountability and economic logics that dominate.

Student voice and classroom practice: how students are consulted in contexts without traditions of student voice

Craig Skerritt, Martin Brown and Joe O'Hara 
(2021) Pedgaogy, Culture and Society 


Different countries have different histories, traditions, cultures, and practices of student voice and are currently at different stages of their student voice journeys. This paper investigates how student voice is coming to be used in relation to classroom practice in different school types and socio-economic settings in the Irish education system. Ireland is a country without a strong tradition or history of student voice and particularly in relation to teaching and learning matters and it is envisaged that this paper will be of strong interest to those in countries where student voice is not yet prominent, but there are also wider implications. This research shows that students are now being consulted in relation to classroom practice in a variety of ways but that even within single school systems consultations are very much connected to school context with voice being used to different extents in different schools in different settings.

Drivers for student and parent voice in school self-evaluation activities: A cross-country analysis of Flanders (Belgium), Ireland and Portugal

Jerich Faddar, Jan Vanhoof, Martin Brown, Maria Figuereido, Sakir Cinkir, Joe O’Hara, Gerry McNamara,
Studies in Educational Evaluation,Volume 71,2021


School self-evaluation (SSE) has become a key strategy in terms of safeguarding educational quality. In order to reach its full potential, it is argued that parents and students should be given a role in an SSE process, as they can help understand the complex environment in which schools operate. However, little is known about how different education systems include parent and student voice in SSE activities, and what driving factors at the individual, system and organisational level can foster this. This study reports on an international survey among school management team members in Flanders (Belgium), Ireland and Portugal. The results show statistically significant differences between countries in terms of parent and student voice in SSE. In particular, driving factors at the system and organisational level are found to explain differences in parent and student voice inclusion in SSE. The paper discusses the implications for researchers, policymakers, and the field of practice.

Challenges and opportunities for culturally responsive leadership in schools: Evidence from Four European countries

Martin Brown, Herbert Altrichter, Igor Shiyan, María José Rodríguez Conde, Gerry McNamara, Barbara Herzog-Punzenberger Irina Vorobyeva, Valentina Vangrando,  Sarah Gardezi, Joe O’Hara, Alexandra Postlbauer, Daria Milyaeva, Natalia Sergeevna, Sieglinde Fulterer2, Adriana Gamazo García,  Lourdes Sánchez

Policy Futures in Education 2021, Vol. 0(0) 1–28 

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/14782103211040909

Whether voluntary or enforced, increasing patterns of migration have significantly impacted schools by making them linguistically, culturally, religiously and ethnically more diverse than ever before. This increasing diversity requires school leaders to put in place mechanisms to ensure equity of participation for migration background students. Dimmock and Walker (2005) believe that school leaders need to play a vital role in promoting and sustaining an environment that embraces diversity and, by association, contributes to solving the macro problems of society. To accomplish this emerging role, there is a need for ‘new approaches to educational leadership in which leaders exhibit culturally responsive organisational practices, behaviours and competencies’ (Madhlangobe and Gordon, 2012: p. 177). This is all well and good in theory, but the current and historical context in which school leaders operate, together with the training and supports that are provided, influences, to a significant extent, how culturally responsive leadership can operate in practice. This study, which is part of a European Commission Erasmus+ funded project entitled Supporting Culturally Responsive Leadership and Evaluation in Schools (CReLES), examines these assumptions by mapping out the factors and actors that can hinder and facilitate the flourishing of such practices in four European countries, Austria, Ireland, Russia and Spain.

Researching how student voice plays out in relation to classroom practice in Irish post-primary schools: a heuristic device

Craig Skerritt, Joe O'Hara & Martin Brown (2021) Irish Educational Studies, doi:



Despite a lack of conclusive evidence connecting autonomous schools and academic success, school autonomy is regularly championed as being a way of not only improving schools but as a way of improving the quality of education in socially and economically deprived areas. This research builds on a recent paper published in Irish Educational Studies that argues that school autonomy should not be advanced in Ireland by exploring how teachers feel about features of autonomous schools. Irish teachers who have previously worked in academy schools in England, and who now teach in disadvantaged schools in Ireland, were interviewed about their experiences and how they would feel about features of autonomous schools being implemented in Ireland. The experiences the participants had in England indicate how school autonomy can be experienced in different ways – morally proper ways that engage with the broad purposes of schooling such as focusing on students and their learning, and morally improper ways that prioritise looking good on external measures at the expense of students and their learning. Overall, the participants were opposed to schools in Ireland becoming more like English academies but felt that having greater local flexibility over the curriculum in schools and offering a wider range of subjects would be beneficial, provided that it was embraced and enacted in a morally proper manner.

Students as co-researchers in a school self-evaluation process

Shivaun O’Brien, Gerry McNamara, Joe O’Hara, Martin Brown and Craig Skerritt  (2021) Improving Schools 1–14 DOI: 10.1177/13654802211034635

School self-evaluation (SSE) or data-based decision making is now a common feature of mainstream education in an increasing number of jurisdictions. The participation of stakeholders including students, is promoted internationally as a key feature of effective SSE. Despite this, very little research has been carried out on how education systems might involve students in SSE and even less research has explored how student involvement can move beyond mere tokenism. Similar to many other jurisdictions, Irish schools are encouraged to include students in SSE. However, the research to date would indicate that while students are frequently consulted through the use of surveys they have little or no involvement in decisions that are made as part of the SSE process at a whole school level. This case study explores an atypical approach to student engagement in SSE which was tested in one Irish post-primary school where students participated as co-researchers along with their teachers in the SSE process. In doing so, student participation in SSE shifted from student as data sources to students as co-researchers. Students became members of the SSE Team, responsible for consulting with the wider staff team, student body and parents. They were actively involved in the completion of a whole school self-evaluation report on assessment and the development of a school improvement plan. The study outlines the key stages of the project and how student participation evolved through the process. Interviews conducted with both the teacher and student members of the SSE Team illuminates the experience of the students and staff on the SSE team. The findings indicate that this approach resulted in significant positive outcomes for the school and the individuals involved, but there were also a number of challenges. Student involvement resulted in greater awareness among, and participation of the wider staff team in the SSE process. However, it required more resources and time than is usually the case for an SSE process in Irish schools. The research suggests that this level of participation by students may require a more systematic and sustained engagement of students in decision making at a classroom level in order to build capacity of students to contribute to decision making at a whole school level on an ongoing basis. This study may have an application in jurisdictions aiming to include students in SSE, particularly at a higher level, and it also provides a glimpse into the deliberate planning and structures required if schools are to move beyond an instrumentalist, compliance model of ‘student voice’ towards a more authentic model of inclusive democracy.


Global messages from the edge of Europe the cause and effect of leadership and planning strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Martin Brown, Joe O’Hara, Gerry McNamara, Craig Skerritt & Paddy Shevlin (2021)  Irish Educational Studies, 40:2, 151-159, DOI: 10.1080/03323315.2021.1915837 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11092-020-09332-w

This paper provides an analysis of the leadership and planning strategies employed by school leaders during the Covid-19 Pandemic. It draws on a series of focus group interviews with school principals from all school types in Northern Ireland. Results derived from the study shows that despite the benefits of various modes of leadership such as distributed leadership and a consensus-based approach to educational provision that is increasingly promoted across many education systems; school leaders spoke of the need to revert to other modes of leadership in the form of situational leadership that quite frequently became the default strategy to cope with the multitude of challenges for school personnel during this period.

While the theory and subsequent benefits of distributed and networked leadership are not disputed, what is questioned is the fragmentary ways in which various modes of leadership are advocated across education systems. This leads to a more succinct question that we suggest should be considered in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions; that is, what conditions, resources and supports are necessary to ensure that distributed leadership is not only perceived as yet another leadership strategy that can in the main, be implemented in unchallenging as opposed to challenging times.

Exploring parent and student engagement in school self-evaluation in four European countries

Martin Brown, Gerry McNamara, Sakir Cinkir, Jerich Fadar, Maria Figueiredo, Jan Vanhoof, Joe O’Hara, Craig Skerritt, Shivaun O’Brien, Gül Kurum, Henrique Ramalho, João Rocha (2021) European Educational Research Journal 20:2 , 159-175 


The purpose of this paper, which is part of a three-year EU Erasmus+-funded study titled ‘Distributed Evaluation and Planning in Schools’ (DEAPS), is to provide an analysis of policies, structures, processes, supports and barriers that exist to enable or inhibit the involvement of students and parents in school evaluation in four European countries (Belgium, Ireland, Portugal and Turkey). Document analysis was used for this study and some 348 peer-reviewed articles, and 28 national and transnational policy documents were included in the analysis. Based on this review it would be reasonable to suggest that the student/parent voice agenda around evaluation in schools remains, by and large, aspirational. It is extolled in policy but in practice is mainly tokenistic with very little evidence of impact on the work of schools. In light of this, it is argued that government and school-level policies and strategies need to be reconsidered to enhance students’ and parents’ engagement in school evaluation. As a first step, significant further empirical research on the limitations on and conditions necessary for stakeholder voice in education is required.

Enacting school self-evaluation: the policy actors in Irish schools

Craig Skerritt, Joe O’Hara, Martin Brown, Gerry McNamara & Shivaun O’Brien (2021) International Studies in Sociology of Education, DOI: 10.1080/09620214.2021.1886594

School self-evaluation is a low-stakes policy recently mandated in Ireland and while schools are becoming more consistent in engaging in this internal mode of evaluation, their engagement has not been uniform. This paper provides new ways of thinking about, understanding, and explaining how school self-evaluation plays out in Irish schools. Subscribing to the view that policies are not simply implemented but enacted through the creative processes of interpretation and translation, this paper shows how school self-evaluation is performed in Irish schools in various ways by various people. We identify numerous policy actors in our qualitative data: narrators, entrepreneurs, outsiders, transactors, enthusiasts, translators, critics, and receivers. This assortment of actors helps to bring school self-evaluation to life but as it comprises heterogeneous entities with varying characteristics, levels of experience, and motivations it is simply not possible for this policy to be implemented in schools as policymakers envisage.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Academic Selection: The Case of Northern Ireland

Martin Brown, Chris Donnelly, Paddy Shevlin, Craig Skerritt, Gerry McNamara and Joe O'Hara (2021) Irish Studies in International Affairs Vol. 32, No. 2, Analysing and Researching Ireland, North and South , pp. 477-498 


There has been much public discussion about church-controlled schools north and south and the potential issues involved if constitutional change was to occur. However, there has been far less debate about Northern Ireland's use of academic selection and its impacts. To fill the research gap in this area and based on a review of the literature on academic selection, coupled with interview data gathered from principals in both the primary and post-primary sectors, from both selective grammar schools and nonselective secondary schools in Northern Ireland, this research reports on the advantages, disadvantages and perceptions of academic selection in Northern Ireland. Evidence derived from this research suggests that participants, in line with the literature, acknowledge that there are benefits to academic selection for some students and schools. However, the vast majority were also of the view that this advantage comes at a significant disadvantage for the majority of the student population before and after the selection process has occurred. This paper calls for the cessation of academic selection in all of its unregulated shapes and forms in Northern Ireland as has occurred in other jurisdictions.

School self-evaluation an international or country specific imperative for school improvement?

Martin Brown, Sarah Gardezi ,Laura del Castillo Blanco, Rossitsa Simeonova ,Yonka Parvanova ,Gerry McNamara ,Joe O'Hara , Zacharoula Kechri (2021) International Journal of Educational Research Open 2:2 

Using multisite case studies in four European countries, the purpose of this paper was to explore school leaders and teachers views on School Self Evaluation (SSE), its role in school improvement and the capacity of schools to engage with the process. Evidence derived from the study suggests that although there is a consensus among school leaders concerning the potential utility of SSE; across some countries, there were also concerns relating to implementing the process and the potential misuse of SSE outcomes. When this was not the case, it is apparent that governments have driven the process with clearly defined legislation and defining the SSE agenda and outcomes to dispel school leaders’ apprehensions regarding the balance between SSE for accountability or school improvement.










Operating educational networks in Northern Ireland: the EQI shaped professional learning network

Joe O’Hara*, Patrick Shevlin, Martin Brown and Gerry McNamara (2021).  SHS Web Conf. Volume 98, 2021

This paper reports on the operation of the DCU Shaped Professional Learning Network (DCU SPLN), an initiative of the Centre for Evaluation Quality and Inspection (EQI) at Dublin City University. The DCU SPLN was initially established in Belfast, Northern Ireland as part of the Erasmus+ Project, 'Polycentric inspections of networks of schools', the focus of which was to provide an assessment of the potential of polycentric inspection as a tool for improving school effectiveness and outcomes.

The cluster has now grown to 140 schools organised in regional clusters throughout Northern Ireland. The paper provides examples of the impact of the network on policy and practice in Northern Ireland. Firstly, it has a Hearts and Minds driving force that is centered on the ethical use of first-hand evidence to drive school improvement and associated action research. Secondly, it is underpinned by the existence and support from external agencies, in this case, researchers at EQI. Thirdly, the professional development provided to schools by EQI and subsequent adjustments by participants and advisors had a direct ongoing positive impact on improving the actual quality of learning in individual schools. Finally, one of the key learning points was the gradual transfer of responsibility for professional learning provision from the EQI researchers to the leaders and teachers involved in the cluster. The paper concludes with drawing some general conclusions about the role of networks in educational practice.


Educational networks: a key driving force for school development in a time of crisis and change

Joe O’Hara*, Patrick Shevlin, Martin Brown and Gerry McNamara (2021) SHS Web Conf. Volume 98, 2021

This paper examines the rise of networking in education, paying particular attention to the recent recognition of their importance during the unprecedented challenges that have emerged for schools during the COVID-19 period. The paper begins with an overview of the development of network theory, exploring how the concept has been adopted across a series of disciplines as a mode of organisational and personal development. It is evidentiated that networks are goal driven, rely on good communication, are challenging and seek to provide a way for school communities to uncover and transmit the knowledge that helps them ensure effective teaching and learning.

The paper subsequently examines how networking has been adapted for educational settings and has become increasingly seen as a potential answer to many of the challenges facing rapidly changing social and educational contexts. Most notably, networking has a significant impact in the field of organisational leadership. The understanding of leadership as a mode that sees power and authority distributed among school communities as a whole has at its heart an awareness of the necessity to network, communicate and dialogue within schools and, perhaps as importantly, between schools. The paper concludes with a brief introduction to the emerging discourse surrounding the potential of networks to re-imaging educational provision in a Covid-19 context.