The dreaded 'i' word: Do NESA inspections deserve a bad rap?

A visit by ‘the inspector’ was enough to strike fear and trepidation into the hearts of many a teacher in days gone by. Preparation for such a visit usually involved excessive use of post-it notes to point out blindingly obvious features of teaching programs, and prettification of perfectly adequate work samples in order to impress. There were also, on occasion, terrifying classroom observations where any unruly student behaviour was attributed to a defect in the teacher.

By contrast, NESA inspectors clearly have different aims in mind.

NESA is responsible to the Education Minister for monitoring compliance with the Education Act 1990, which sets out requirements that schools must meet in order to maintain their registration (licence to operate as a school) and accreditation (the school’s authority to nominate candidates for the award of the Record of School Achievement (RoSA) and/or the Higher School Certificate).

NESA has two processes for fulfilling its responsibilities under the Education Act: cyclical inspections and random inspections.

Cyclical inspections

Cyclical inspections focus on the procedures that schools or systems of schools have in place to ensure that they are meeting their compliance obligations, and that their procedures are effective.

The requirements and evidence of compliance relate to:

  • the proprietor and principal of the school
  • staff
  • curriculum
  • premises and buildings
  • facilities
  • safe and supportive environment
  • discipline
  • attendance
  • management and operation of the school
  • educational and financial reporting.

(For more information, see: Section 5 page 41)

NESA’s own policy states: NESA’s processes have particular regard to minimising any additional administrative burden on either the system or individual schools by utilising any existing system processes that serve a similar purpose to NESA’s school monitoring processes. (NSW Education Standards Authority Systems Monitoring)

(For more information see:

In addition, NESA’s documentation makes two important points:

  • NESA attendance at a system internal assurance visit is dependent on the nature of the system’s processes being observed but generally would be approximately half a day. The schedule for the inspection visit is determined by the system. Any involvement of school staff in the system’s internal assurance process is a matter for the system and school.
  • NESA’s cyclical system monitoring process does not involve classroom interruption or teacher observations by NESA Inspectors.

(For more information see:

In 2020 we should be moving beyond the fear of‘ the inspector’ to a mature recognition of the work of teachers and reasonable ways of assessing same.

Random inspections

Each year NESA establishes two focus areas for random inspections, known as Strand A and Strand B; 26 schools are selected for random inspection, 13 for each strand, comprised of nine government, two systemic non government and two individual non government schools. Due to COVID 19, Random Inspections have been cancelled for 2020. If they had gone ahead, the planned focus areas for this year were:

Random inspection Strand A

Strand A includes a policy area and a curriculum area.

  • Policy area: a safe and supportive environment – child protection.
  • Curriculum area: this will be either for primary schools and secondary schools with Years 7-10 – one stage of mathematics or PDHPE (NESA selected) with a focus on assessment and reporting for secondary schools with Years 11 and 12 – Stage 6 assessment policies.

Random inspection Strand B

Strand B relates to the quality of student learning.

  • For primary schools: two stages of HSIE (NESA selected)
  • For secondary schools with Years 7-10 – Stage 4 Technology Mandatory and one Stage 5 Technologies elective (NESA selected)
  • For secondary schools with Years 11-12 – Stage 6 Mathematics.

(For more information, see

Schools are only required to demonstrate compliance in one strand, which is preselected by NESA and advised when the school is notified of the date of the random inspection.

A minimum of four days’ notice is to be given to a school before the inspection takes place, which is a clear indication of NESA’s intention that the inspectors will view work and documentation already in existence, not paperwork generated specifically for the visit.

On their website, NESA has outlined the typical timeframe for a random inspection of just two hours. Clearly there is neither the intention nor the capacity for inspectors to wade through reams of evidence that prove compliance over and over again.

In its policy NESA emphasises:

  • A system monitoring visit by random selection should take approximately two hours and have minimal impact on the daily school routine. It does not require staff participation beyond the school principal.
  • The system monitoring by random selection process does not involve classroom interruption or teacher observations by NESA inspectors.

(For more information, see:

In spite of these clear instructions, there is unfortunately plenty of gossip and fearmongering around NESA inspections. Last year, the IEU invited a NESA inspector to address organisers and officers. The inspector confirmed the experience related by members: inspectors routinely arrive at schools to find piles of documentation that they do not require. Similarly, staff at a non government school in Sydney were exhorted to provide unreasonable and exhausting amounts of evidence, ostensibly because a sister school in the same area had supposedly failed its NESA inspection. The most perfunctory investigation by the IEU demonstrated this was not the case, but it is a perfect example of the hysteria and ‘fake news’ that swirls around compliance with the requirements.

Obviously, compliance with the Education Act is essential, and NESA has established how schools can demonstrate observance of the regulations. If union members believe they are being asked to engage in document collection that impacts on their health and wellbeing, or their core work of teaching and learning, they should hold a chapter meeting to discuss ways of seeking modification of the school’s expectations.

In 2020 we should be moving beyond fear of ‘the inspector’ to a mature recognition of the work of teachers and reasonable ways of assessing same. Any fear and trepidation around satisfying compliance should be consigned to history – where it belongs.

Veronica Yewdall Organiser and Education Co-ordinator

Veronica has 33 years' experience as a primary classroom teacher, across grades K-6. She contributed to the IEU submission to the National Curriculum Review and is a member of AITSL’s Teacher Practice Reference Group on the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions Online Formative Assessment Initiative.