The Scottish Greens are to unveil plans to overhaul the school inspection system, replacing external HMIE inspections with a new peer-review based system led by teachers working collaboratively across schools and local authorities.
The party is arguing that externally-run HMIE (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education) inspections have contributed to a breakdown in trust between teachers and Education Scotland, the national agency within which HMIE has sat since its merger with Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) in 2011.
Revealing its plans exclusively to Tes Scotland before the publication of its manifesto later this month, the party said it wanted to emulate Finland where school inspections were abolished in the early 1990s and there is a strong focus on self-evaluation.
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The proposal follows research commissioned by the Scottish Greens and conducted by the University of Stirling academics Professor Mark Priestley – who conducted the independent review into last year’s results debacle – and Dr Kylie Bradfield.
In a briefing paper looking at education governance the academics find that inspections are “high stakes snapshots of school, undertaken largely by external agents with little knowledge of the school”.
They argue a more effective system would focus on support, stating: “An inspection is to some extent a measurement of a performance on the day rather than an evaluation of a long term trajectory of practice.
"More frequent and tightly focused peer evaluations (engaging colleagues from other schools) may be more effective, especially if their focus is on support. Such practices would benefit both the schools being evaluated and provide good professional development for those doing the evaluation.”
Ross Greer, Scottish Green candidate for West Scotland and the party’s education spokesman, said school inspection was the cause of “immense stress” for school staff and put schools under pressure to rapidly implement policies and practices to “tick a box for the purposes of a positive HMIE report”.
He added: “The best performing education systems are those based on trust and professionalism. I saw that first hand in Finland. By replacing routine external inspections with a peer-review system, we can rebuild that trust here in Scotland and support collaboration between schools to improve learning in a supportive environment.
“Of course, this will only work if teacher numbers are increased and other workloads are decreased, allowing time for this kind of collaboration. That’s why we will shortly announce Scottish Green proposals for both of these key objectives.”
Under the Greens’ proposals, a national inspectorate would be preserved but used only in cases of concern or where serious complaints have been made.
This inspectorate would be separated from Education Scotland in a bid to “end the inherent conflict of interest in a body responsible for both curricular development and inspection of how that curriculum is being implemented”.
According to the Scottish Green proposals the system of peer review would be coordinated by the eight Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) and the focus of the peer-review exercises would be to share best practice and build trust.
In February the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of “substantial reform” of Education Scotland and the exam body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which raised the prospect of the separation of Education Scotland’s inspection and curriculum development functions.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the number of inspections being carried out in Scottish schools was rising. However, inspection has been suspended since last year as a result of the pandemic.