Inspections and audits are meaningless

A fierce broadside against audit and inspection in education was fired off in his conference contribution by Keir Bloomer, the chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council and its former director of education.

"They are practically meaningless as a system of quality assurance," he said. "I would go further and say they are deeply counter-productive because they depress morale, give a spurious authority to the way things should be done and are very time-consuming. The audit regime is not really about quality at all: it's about protecting politicians' backs."

But Liz McGinlay, director of education in West Dunbartonshire, told the audience there must be school evaluation carried out in a way that was "rigorous, objective and transparent". It was "the story behind the data"

that was important, not the data itself.

There were murmurings from her listeners as Ms McGinlay spelled out in extensive detail the panoply of measures which her authority has available to check up on school performance.

One Glasgow head said: "All these demands for accountability and ticking boxes are killing flair and innovation among our staff. We want teachers who can take forward initiatives, certainly, but we want teachers who can take the initiative as well."

Mr Bloomer acknowledged that there were "some positive signs" that flexibility, innovation and a "bottom-up" culture were being encouraged.

But, he added, this would come to nothing if schools were forced to play safe and avoid taking risks for fear they might be punished if they failed.

Mr Bloomer called for "a new relationship" between the state and services such as education. This would involve "the setting out of broad policy which is not micro-managed, an acceptance of a pluralist approach to the way things are done rather than a national strategy and making allowance for a greater diversity in the providers of services".

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