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How to survive the inspector's knock

Authorities have to be "crystal clear" about the five or six ways they have to raise standards, Ian Glen, head of schools in Midlothian, told the advisers.

Offering tips on how to prepare an authority for inspection, Mr Glen said that there was no way to pull the wool over the eyes of the quality inspection teams. "They are everywhere and they go out to ask schools," he said.

Midlothian is currently involved in an inspection, along with Dundee, and expects a final report in late spring. Mr Glen is one of 12 associate inspectors who will join HMI investigations of other authorities.

A key aspect is the lead and direction education chiefs provide for schools. Mr Glen suggested a number of possible questions.

"How well do you know your schools? This is a key function for the inspectors. What are visits like? Are they pastoral? Are you talking about the development plan?

"Are you challenging schools in terms of attainment and how doyou monitor attainment? How do you identify and support weak schools? Do you provide the same level of support for all schools?" Other issues were staff development and review and levels of communication with schools. "We thought we consulted quite well with our schools but clearly they did not particularly think so from the results of the questionnaires," Mr Glen said.

A fundamental point was the value authorities added through leadership, support and evaluation. Self-evaluation was important.

Mr Glen, however, warned that inspections can be stressful and disruptive and do not consider all aspects of the directorate's remit.

Deirdre McVean, senior education adviser in Dundee, said there was "no such thing" as an informal visit from HMI but insisted the process had been "very thorough and rigorous". Many positive aspects had emerged. "HMI consider that advisers or their equivalent have a 100 per cent quality improvement remit."

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