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Advisers 'more use at primary level'

Advisers make a valuable and valued contribution to the work of education authorities - but they appear to be more prized in primary schools than in secondaries.

This is the conclusion of a survey of the first 13 HMI reports on the authorities. It was carried out by the Yorkshire-based National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (NAEIAC) on behalf of its sister organisation, the Association of Educational Advisers in Scotland.

John Chowcat, general secretary of the English body, said: "This detailed analysis confirms the essential value, and the particular strengths, of Scotland's local authority-based educational advisory services, in helping schools to raise their levels of attainment."

Advisers, now increasingly called quality improvement officers, have been highly critical about what they see as the undermining of their role in supporting schools, at a time when attainment has never been higher up the agenda. Of particular concern has been the use of seconded teachers to augment their ranks, and the NAEIAC report notes a mixed reaction from HMI to this practice.

The inspectors praised authorities like South Ayrshire which used secondments selectively but were highly critical of the high dependency on secondees in East Dunbartonshire.

Advisers have also been concerned at what they regard as unplanned moves from their role as subject specialists to being given across-the-board responsibilities. But this was found to have worked well in Inverclyde where advisers visit schools twice a session both to monitor performance and promote improvement. Heads found this "open, rigorous and effective."

One of the findings is that "support offered to pre-school and primary was more valued by those establishments than that offered to secondary schools, a view found commonly given that secondary schools have a greater belief in their capacity for self-sufficiency." One exception is in secondary schools in Scottish Borders where HMI found advisory intervention was "rigorous and very well received."

The report concludes that local authorities need to deploy advisers to ensure they have the capacity to monitor and challenge schools in the way HMI would like. This does not mean, however, that their roles to support subject teaching and in professional development are at an end. There is therefore a "major issue" for advisers' own professional development.

Tommy Docherty, spokesman for the AEAS, said the service would have to accept that HMI expected their role to be one of "challenge and support for schools, particularly challenge."

As for the differing reactions from primary and secondary schools, Mr Docherty said it was inevitable that generalist primary teachers would welcome specialist subject support, while subject teachers in secondaries had more confidence in their knowledge and in their skill to deliver their subject.

"I don't think secondaries are hostile to advisory support," Mr Docherty added, "it's just that primaries are more immediately receptive."

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