'Climate of fear' denied

David Henderson

Up to 80 per cent of people questioned about their experience of being inspected report favourably on the process, Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, told the fifth and final seminar to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The TESS.

The theme was "tougher, intelligent accountabilities", the fifth strand in the Scottish Executive's Ambitious, Excellent Schools blueprint.

According to Mr Donaldson, most schools felt they were better for the inspection experience and that it helped them do their best for their pupils. He dismissed suggestions of a climate of fear.

Mr Donaldson said: "There is a lot of good in the system, but we're regularly picking up on instances where children are being let down by what's happening in their school."

The inspection regime operated in a different political climate from that of the 1980s and 1990s and placed greater emphasis on self-evaluation, part of the more professional approach evident across schools. Independent inspection was now about "narrative not numbers" and was "mostly affirmative".

"But it's not a soft option", Mr Donaldson told the seminar in Edinburgh.

"It's a harder agenda than we had previously. We do not gild the lily either way."

Ian Davidson, head of the improvement team in the Scottish Executive, backed the move away from hard indicators to other important areas of schools' work. The climate was changing through the Executive's 2000 Education Act and its focus on wider improvement along with the agenda spelt out by Ambitious, Excellent Schools. The task was to support the "creative endeavour" of teachers to produce better outcomes for children.

Mr Davidson said: "There's a very strong message that the national priorities (developed through the 2000 Act) have been a focus and driver for improvement. Schools have confidence that what they're doing is in line with the national agenda.

"I believe the national priorities should not change," Mr Davidson said.

"They still send the key messages that need to be sent throughout the system."

But others described an altogether different culture of accountability.

Walter Humes, professor of education at Aberdeen University and TESS columnist, said teachers remained critical of inspection and central direction. They often found it "a demoralising process".

He added: "In Scotland, we have a low trust climate in teachers'


Professor Humes pointed to the series of anonymous letters in a recent issue of the General Teaching Council for Scotland journal. Teachers were afraid to speak out, he said.

Robin Harper, Green MSP and former secondary teacher, in Glasgow, Fife and Edinburgh, said: "In almost all the schools I worked in, there was a fear factor."

The TESS is grateful to Learning and Teaching Scotland, Standard Life and Edinburgh City Council's e-team for their support of the event.

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