HMIE says sorry - again

For the second time, HMIE has had to apologise for the handling of its inspection report on education authorities

the inspectorate is blaming an "individual error" for the mishandling of the HMIE report late last year on the performance of education authorities, it has emerged.

This was revealed by Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector, in a letter to the chief executive of Scottish Borders Council. He said the matter was under investigation.

Mr Donaldson apologised for the way the report was issued, the second time the inspectorate has been forced to patch up relations with local authorities following its controversial over-view of the first round of what is known as INEA (inspection of education authorities).

Scottish Borders Council was particularly dismayed when it was criticised in media coverage of the HM Inspectorate of Education report because it had not previously known of the report's existence. It believes its education services were unfairly portrayed as the country's worst.

Officials were unhappy that HMIE had focused on criticisms made in a 2002 inspection. It felt that the report gave the impression of providing an assessment covering the period 2000 to 2005, when it actually showed snapshots of local authorities at particular times. The authority said that big improvements made since 2002 had not been given credit in the report.

It was also critical of sections of the media for not checking facts.

The first apology was to the convention of Scottish Local Authorities following its fierce criticism of the way the inspectorate report was handled, including the lack of advance warning given to councils (TESS, December 8). Charles Gray, Cosla's education spokesperson, said the process was "as alarming as it was dishonest".

Now Glenn Rodger, director of education and lifelong learning in the Borders, has weighed in, describing the impact of what he called media misrepresentation as "a sickening blow" for many staff. "We are a very different department to that of 2002, having demonstrated a huge capacity for improvement that has been recognised by HMIE themselves," he said. "We have worked so hard to deliver very significant improvements in every aspect of our service, and all of this was ignored."

Mr Rodger said the situation could have been avoided if the report had charted the improvement of the education service in the Borders. But he also praised the "tremendous support" that had been given by HMIE district inspectors since 2002.

In a letter to David Hume, the council's chief executive, Mr Donaldson, said: "I very much regret that we did not follow our normal procedures and provide an advance copy of the report to authorities."

He agreed that the authority had made great progress since 2002, pointing to a "very positive" follow-up inspection in January 2005, which acknowledged this.

"At no point was it our intention to revisit individual inspections," he said. "The purpose of the report was to constructively draw out general messages which could help inform future improvement."

Mr Donaldson said he shared "concern and disappointment" at how the report had been portrayed in the media.

The inspectorate has also faced criticism at the start of the current INEA 2 round, about which Dundee is understood to have felt aggrieved over the lack of notice it received and the lack of preparedness on both sides. The inspection is understood to have been completed in April but its publication delayed until November - by which time it was said to be out of date.

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