Inspectors take a bow on international stage

Neil Munro

St Andrew's Day next Wednesday will be marked by a little-noticed event where Scottish education will be put on the European stage.

HM inspectors will be hosting a conference for their continental colleagues, jointly with the Department for Education and Science in England, as part of the UK's presidency of the European Union. The event will allow the inspectorate to proclaim what it sees as increasing recognition of the success of the "Scottish approach" over the past 15 years.

The centre-piece is How Good Is Our School?, which has been translated into a number of languages, including Spanish and German. Local versions of the set of HGIOS quality indicators are in use in many countries in Europe, Africa and South America.

The roll call of countries which have picked HMIE's brains on school self-evaluation is certainly vast - Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

Robert Barfoot, a district inspector who has just returned from a tour of duty in Brazil, put the lesson across that self-evaluation was an important tool for any system that cannot inspect all schools regularly to ensure they are up to the mark. Even in a small country like Scotland, inspection regimes allow a primary school to be inspected only once every seven years and a secondary over a five-year cycle.

Mr Barfoot's message to other countries, conveyed in an interview with the British Council's UK Link magazine, was that "only if everyone, including, staff, parents and pupils, is involved in seeking high quality, can we be assured of continuous improvements. To do this, schools need to be able to evaluate themselves accurately and take action, not just once every seven years but all the time."

He acknowledged that, while schools had become more skilled at evaluating themselves accurately, this was by no means universally the case.

A steady stream of international visitors also beats a path to the inspectorate's Livingston headquarters, most recently a delegation from China, representatives of the ministry of education from Hesse in Germany and inspectors from Brunei.

Every country, it appears, is interested in issues to do with school standards, accountability, self-evaluation and autonomy.

HMIE is currently managing a two-year international development project on "effective school self-evaluation" on behalf of the Standing International Conference of Inspectorates in Europe. It is funded by the European Commission and aims to come up with a framework to evaluate how well schools use self-evaluation.

Scotland's inspectors are also involved in a British Council project to support the school inspectorate in the Czech Republic, again with a focus on self-evaluation. A number of visits have taken place over the past three years, with an HMIE group delivering training in Prague last month.

Some longer-term co-operation is envisaged through the Franco-Scottish agreement signed in November 2004 to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale.

HMIE has already undertaken inspections in France earlier this year, as part of a European "peer to peer" ICT evaluation project. French and Dutch inspectors are to join HMIE inspections and FE reviews to discuss practice in evaluating ICT.

It all amounts to what HMIE believes is "a small inspectorate having a big global impact".

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Neil Munro

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