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Didn't they tell him not to mention the O word?

HMI chiefs were put on the spot by Terry Neal, vice-president of the Secondary Heads' Association south of the border, who asked: "Which three things that Ofsted does would you most wish to avoid?" Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector, gave the standard response that the inspection service in England was set up to deal with a very different situation, principally much wider variations in quality of school.

But he went on to suggest that the four-yearly inspections favoured by Ofsted were too frequent and could create "inspection dependency" in which nothing is done between inspections. Second, Scottish inspectons would always be at least managed and led by an HMI. Third, "we have never used the language of failing schools in Scotland".

Graham Donaldson, Mr Osler's depute said that an inspectorate must have credibility and must work collectively with others.

"The key issue is one of ownership, that the outcome of an inspection is one which the school accepts is an effective way forward. That is what gives the exercise credibility.

"But there will always be a tension between what the schools wish to pursue and national frameworks and priorities, and inspection has to operate within that tension."

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