Death of a friend and reflections on the point of education

I guess these columns are meant to be personal, so here goes. In late November, Ian Rowley, a recently retired member of HM Inspectorate of Education, died. He had been a close friend for 25 years.

We socialised, holidayed and even talked about education together. I knew that he was really good at his job, even if we didn't agree all the time.

His funeral fell smack bang in the middle of my college's HMIE review. The irony, of course, was that we had spent months together talking about the review and the changes that had been made in the college.

You will understand that HMIE are at the forefront of my mind these days.

Now that phase one of the college review is over, I find myself thinking about the future of the review process and what colleges and their stakeholders should get in value added for the pound;1.2 million that the Scottish Funding Council spend annually to get the inspectorate to review the FE sector. It is likely that a new review model will be in place by 2008. It is likely that, with colleges and universities under the same umbrella, the Quality Assurance Agency and HMIE frameworks will move towards each other. No doubt the framework used elsewhere, say within the Care Commission, will also have an influence.

As for the review model, I hope colleges that are performing well will receive a lighter touch. Having said that, it does not take long for a college to hit the skids, so perhaps there should be some triggers that would require a closer scrutiny. A change of principal or an adverse change in financial performance are things that come to mind as possible changes that could lead to a drilling down deeper than a lighter touch.

One of the most valuable elements of the review process is the polishing that goes on prior to the review. Some colleges may require a little more than this and it is they that the process should help develop. Reporting on aspects of the curriculum also seems to be a valuable tool. Having "enjoyed" two reviews as a principal, some aspects of the curriculum do not always come under the spotlight.

As for Ian's legacy, the letters of tribute sent to his home from HMIE colleagues and across the sector countrywide are testimony to his working life. Apart from a friend to talk with, I will miss someone who discussed with me the real point of education.

Stuart McKillop is principal of South Lanarkshire College

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