Plain English style brings a light touch

Elizabeth Buie reports on the education inspectorate's new regime – and some schools will not be inspected in the next round
14th November 2008, 12:00am


Plain English style brings a light touch

All the schools selected to pilot the education inspectorate's new "proportionate" or "light touch" regime have been told inspectors will not return in this round of visits.

Two secondaries, two primaries, their associated nurseries, and two early years centres received glowing reports from inspectors, written in their new style of "plain English". A further two secondaries, Clyde Valley High in Wishaw, and St Columba's High in Perth, which were inspected in September under the new regime, were also told not to expect further visits.

Dalziel High in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, one of the pioneers of early exams presentation, received the best report, with three "excellent" gradings and two "very goods" in the shorter report, which has cut quality indicators from 17 to five.

Although early presentation of pupils for exams has been controversial, it was not explicitly addressed in the report. However, Brian Miller, the head, said the inspectors had tacitly acknowledged Dalziel High's success in raising attainment through early presentations in S3 by giving "excellent" scores to two of the quality indicators, for "improvements in performance" and "improvement through self-evaluation".

Dalziel High was only the second secondary school in Scotland to be judged excellent for securing improvement through self-evaluation, Mr Miller claimed. The first was Inverkeithing High, the school formerly headed by Lindsay Roy, the newly-elected Labour MP for Glenrothes. Mr Miller, whose leadership was described as "outstanding" by inspectors, said the whole style of the new inspection was different and involved "far less pressure".

The days when heads had to provide profiles of the school and its departments, and send in all the school's policies in advance, had gone, he said. Instead, the only preparation required was by the head, who had to deliver a two-hour presentation, with accompanying evidence, to inspectors. "For a headteacher on any watch, that should not be difficult. Teachers have always said they want inspections where the inspector just turns up. They have almost got that now."

Mr Miller did a dummy run of his "warts and all" presentation to staff before inspectors arrived and incorporated suggestions from principal teachers in the final version.

During the inspection process, if inspectors saw that the teacher was effective, they would leave after 20 minutes and didn't feel they had to stay a full hour, said Mr Miller.

Instead of "talking at you" or "lecturing you", inspectors now seemed to be keen to take part in a two-way dialogue, according to Dalziel's head. "During the dialogue, we challenged one or two of their findings and we were able to send them supporting evidence," Mr Miller said. "They are now very keen to be seen to be helping schools to improve."

One of the key differences in the new inspection system was the more accessible language used in the report, he added. Thus, in the "learning and achievement" section of Dalziel High's report, inspectors wrote: "Young people are very interested in lessons. They feel valued, are keen to answer questions, and they share their ideas confidently with teachers and each other. Most are aware of how well they are doing, what they are good at and what they need to do to improve."

Graham Donaldson, HM senior chief inspector, said: "This new inspection model retains the rigour of previous approaches while further strengthening our contribution to improvement. We now expect centres and schools to give us an account of how they are improving education for learners as the starting point for the inspection. Inspectors will examine and respond to this during the inspection.

"Where inspectors are confident that the school's self-evaluation shows clearly how it is improving, they may use more of their time to help the school improve further."

From April 2009, headteachers can expect to receive feedback from inspectors after the report has been published to help them understand how inspectors reached their conclusions.


The style of community learning reports also changed in September 2008. They are designed to recognise the increased integrated working between departments in local authorities, and with other agencies and organisations.

A community learning development HM inspector joins school inspection teams and contributes to the evaluation of the school. At the same time, CLD provision not directly related is evaluated within the learning community surrounding it.

The report on the learning community surrounding Dalziel High in North Lanarkshire was also published this week. It identified a number of examples of good practice, including the youth work training programme, 50+ ("getting on with life" event), a laryngectomy group (providing information and support for people after surgery) and Biro Babes (a creative writing group for women).

Other pilot schools:

- Bathgate Academy, West Lothian: three "very good" and two "good" gradings; examples of good practice - curriculum innovation, quality assurance, and service for children with additional support needs;

- Deans Primary and Nursery Class, Livingston, West Lothian: seven "good" and one "very good" grading: example of its good practice - work with agencies such as Barnardo's Scotland;

- Windyknowe Primary and Nursery class, Bathgate, West Lothian: examples of good practice - collaborative working across classes and stages with innovative approaches to learning across the curriculum;

- Whitdale Early Years Centre, Whitburn, West Lothian: three "very good" and two "good" gradings; strengths included its effective use of the outdoor environment and health education;

- Andrew B Cameron Early Education and Childcare Centre, Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire: one "excellent", three "very goods" and one "good" grading; strengths included children's learning experiences and staff involvement in the life and work of the centre.

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