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HMI goes for praise and ethos

Douglas Osler, head of the Inspectorate, has sent an upbeat message to Scottish teachers in stark contrast to the tone set by Labour south of the border and by Chris Woodhead, head of the Office for Standards in Education.

Mr Osler's remarks last week to the Scottish Schools Ethos Network conference in Falkirk chime with comments by Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, who is ditching much of the Conservative agenda.

Taking his cue, the senior chief inspector attacked media critics who condemned standards in Scotland, a reference to Andrew Neil, editor-in-chief of the Scotsman who has been behind a series of wounding comments. Mr Osler stoutly defended standards and denounced those "who would have you believe education was a problem area of society".

He told the second national conference on school ethos: "I am not prepared to keep knocking the system and spread alarm among parents and despair among teachers when there is so much evidence of the good that is going on in Scottish education."

Mr Osler stated: "It is my view we need to broadcast some of our successes a little more and we are not as good at that in Scotland as we should be. The trouble with saying that is that people say, 'that's just typical of the educational community, they're complacent about Scottish education'. I am not at all complacent but I do believe strengths far outweigh weaknesses in most schools and that these strengths are sufficient to put the weaknesses right. "

He said: "A lot of people have worked hard in Scotland to put achievement and raising standards at the top of the agenda and I think we have recognised the importance of a positive school ethos."

Mr Osler praised the first two winners in the schools' ethos awards, Castlebrae High, Edinburgh and Achaleven primary, Connel, by Oban, sponsored by the Scottish Office and Moray House Institute of Education. Schools were only as good as their headteachers, he said.

Willie Crosbie, Castlebrae's head, seized his moment to condemn the previous government's hectoring of teachers and constant criticism. "Given encouragement, support and the right opportunities, our pupils can perform as well as anyone," Mr Crosbie said.

For the first time in 10 years, three of his pupils are going to university: the school is in the deprived Craigmillar area of the capital.

Mr Crosbie said there were "no quick fixes". Each school was different and all schools needed the kind of positive backing provided by an ethos network.

The schools were presented with cheques for Pounds 2,000 and Pounds 1, 000, and ironically have fought off closure attempts over the past 10 years. Castlebrae is coming to the end of its first five-year plan and was rewarded for turning around its fortunes. Judges from the ethos network, which includes almost 500 schools and 24 councils, praised a number of developments which had created an ethos of achievement, including contracts with businesses, a learning to think programme and supported learning.

The 58-pupil Achaleven primary was once under threat from the former Strathclyde Region's rationalisation programme but survived to meet the approval of the judges for its work on self-evaluation and raising pupil esteem. The physical environment of the playground has been improved following consultations with pupils.

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