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A genteel inspector calls;Schools inspection;Millennium edition

HMIs once had to conform to the most elaborate social and professional codes, recalls Stuart Maclure.

Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools have gone through many changes in the 160 years since the appointment of the first two HMIs.

Under the 1902 Education Act the inspectorate was reorganised, bringing together the Science and Art Department's inspectors with those of the Board of Education in a single Inspectorate. HMIs continued to be appointed by Royal Warrant and it was by now long accepted that HMI reports could not be altered by the department.

HMIs inspected secondary schools regularly, and every seven to 10 years a team of subject-specialist HMIs carried out week-long "full" inspections. Elementary schools received shorter shrift. Few HMIs had any direct experience of elementary schools. They relied on sub-inspectors.

Between the world wars most of the inspecting of elementary schools was done by "assistant inspectors" (mainly former elementary heads) who were paid less and had shorter holidays, travelled third class and were not allowed to put their signature to reports.

Assistant inspectors were dispensed with under the 1944 Education Act.

The first post-war senior chief inspector, Sir Martin Roseveare, reorganised the inspectorate, though there were still two branches - Primary and Secondary (which included special needs), and Technical, Commerce and Art (which included adult education). All HMIs became general inspectors visiting a range of schools and colleges. They also each had a specialist subject or phase of education and were part of a specialist team headed by a staff inspector.

Any new inspector was appointed to a regional division. Training consisted mainly of being attached to an experienced mentor for a probationary period in a district (corresponding, more or less, to a local education authority area). A formal etiquette had to be observed. All male HMIs, from the most senior to the least, addressed each other by their surnames. They never shook hands. Female HMIs wore hats. HMIs who had PhDs could be written to as "Dr", but only medical doctors were to be addressed as such socially.

Much store was set on politeness and courtesy in dealings with schools, too, but there were class distinctions. Grammar school headteachers received warning of a visit but this was not usually thought necessary for primary schools. Letters to a grammar school head would begin "Dear Jones" but those to a secondary modern head would open with "Dear Mr Jones". Such foibles lessened in the 1960s and 1970s when formalities were relaxed and first names took over.

Under the system established during the immediate post-war years, every school and college would have a general inspector, who might have 200-250 schools to be visited once every five or six terms. From time to time, full inspections would be organised: a team of specialist HMIs would visit secondary schools, and primary schools would receive a shorter visitation from two or three HMIs. But in practice, with only 500 or so HMIs, it was never possible to operate a regular cycle of full inspections.

The pre-1992 HM Inspectorate was never regarded as a universal watchdog. Its responsibility was to report to the appropriate minister on the state of the schools and to act as hisher eyes and ears. It also provided professional advice to the department and to Central Advisory Council inquiries, such as Crowther, Newsom and Plowden.

Officially, its instructions were to offer advice only if asked, but it became a recognised part of the job and so each year the inspectorate mounted an in-service teacher training programme of courses run by specialist HMIs. Some, such as Christian Schiller and Robin Tanner (primary education) and Edith Biggs (maths), had considerable personal influence. There was also a steady flow of HMI publications.

The character of the inspectorate changed in the 1970s as the Department of Education began to take a more active role. More of the daily work of HMIs - including a modified full inspection programme - was planned centrally and directed towards the policy concerns of the department.

However, it was the Education Reform Act of 1988 that brought radical change for the inspectorate. The national curriculum would have to be policed by a new system of monitorial inspection. As Prime Minister, John Major, subsequently embraced the Citizen's Charter, which promised independent regulation and consumer protection. This was interpreted as requiring an end to the institutional link between HMI and the Department of Education.

The Office for Standards in Education was set up under a new-style HM Chief Inspector of schools, responsible directly to the Prime Minister, to be a watchdog on behalf of parents rather than a professional adviser to the Education Secretary.

Under OFSTED, the gentle style of the former inspectorate and the understated public statements of the former Chief Inspector were replaced with naming and shaming. But there remain 175 HMIs working in the system and the inspectoratelives on.

Stuart Maclure is a former editor of 'The TES' and author of a forthcoming book on HM Inspectorate * TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY ADVICE FOR INSPECTORS

Note before the arrival of the scholars whether the room is properly cleaned, warmed and aired, the funriture in good condition, the ink wells stowed away out of the dust, and the water supply properly laid on. On the arrival of the staff and the children ... note whether the scholars march into the school in an orderly manner and take their places quietly, and if the morning is unfavourable whether they are admitted as they arrive, and whether discipline is maintained' - turn-of-the-century advice for inspectors

Note before the arrival of the scholars whether the room is properly cleaned, warmed and aired, the funriture in good condition, the ink wells stowed away out of the dust, and the water supply properly laid on. On the arrival of the staff and the children ... note whether the scholars march into the school in an orderly manner and take their places quietly, and if the morning is unfavourable whether they are admitted as they arrive, and whether discipline is maintained'.

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