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Department of Education & Skills Inspectorate and Teagasc cooperate on evaluation of agricultural colleges

The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills (DES) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority. This agreement provides for the Inspectorate to design and lead a programme of Whole-College Evaluations (WCEs) of Teagasc’s Agricultural Colleges, in addition to privately-owned colleges that offer courses on behalf of Teagasc, over the next three years.

On the invitation of Teagasc, pilot evaluations of two agricultural colleges - Ballyhaise College in Co Cavan and Gurteen College in Co Tipperary - were conducted earlier this year. Each inspection team was led by DES Inspectors and also included an expert from Teagasc’s headquarters and an external expert with experience in agricultural education.

The pilot evaluations provided affirmation of many aspects of the work in the two colleges and also identified challenges and opportunities for improvement in the standard of provision in their courses.

The Teagasc Authority reviewed the inspections and was satisfied that the WCE process fulfilled an important evaluative purpose. They believed that the WCEs provided valuable information, particularly about the quality of teaching and learning in the colleges, and they have requested the Inspectorate to carry out similar evaluations in the remaining agricultural colleges.

Following negotiations, the Department have agreed to conduct WCEs in the remaining four Teagasc and two privately-owned colleges over the period 2014 - 2016.

Speaking today, the Chief Inspector of the DES, Dr Harold Hislop, said, “The Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills is delighted to work with Teagasc in the evaluation of agricultural colleges. The agriculture sector is a vitally important part of our economy and we look forward to cooperating with the Authority as they work to improve the standards of learning for their students in the agricultural colleges.”

The Director of Teagasc, Prof Gerry Boyle, commended the DES inspectorate on the joint pilot college evaluations carried out to date. “The professional, independent nature of the evaluations are particularly valued by Teagasc. In recent years Teagasc has seen almost a 150% increase in college enrolments leading a very substantial increase in student to staff ratios. It is essential that Teagasc monitors closely the quality of its education delivery in that context. It may be necessary to restrict student intakes if quality is being undermined,” he said.

In excess of 3,600 learners participate annually in Teagasc full time, part time and distance education courses. Teagasc though its provider agreement with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) implements a comprehensive quality assurance programme. Teagasc has introduced whole college evaluations as an additional measure to guide education managers in making continuous quality improvements.