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'Robust' Scots must do better

East Lothian heads told by Inspectorate chief that weaknesses in schools have to be corrected, reports David Henderson.

SCHOOLS in Scotland are "fundamentally robust" but have "a bit to do to meet national aspirations", Douglas Osler, head of the Inspectorate, re-emphasised last week.

The senior chief inspector was addressing headteachers in East Lothian, only months after inspectors slammed Musselburgh Grammar for failing in critical aspects. Council leaders stoutly defended the school against the national condemnation.

Mr Osler made no direct reference to Musselburgh in setting out a new agenda for Scottish education but returned to his favourite themes of addressing weaknesses - identified through self-evaluation - and social inclusion.

"We are good at knowing where the weaknesses are but we are a great deal less good than we should be at correcting weaknesses," he said.

There were many good schools and significant strengths in Scottish education that should be sufficient to tackle the "significant" weaknesses. He declined to spell out what they were, but said: "The teaching force will be the main determinant of success and we have to encourage and sustain that at all times."

High-quality management was fundamental to maximum achievement and the headteacher was the single most important factor in the quality of a school.

The real challenge was motivating children from families and communities that habitually failed to achieve. The poor, unemployed and young people at risk invariably had few or any qualifications, despite schools' excellent record in improving overall attainment.

Picking up ministers' current emphasis on inter-agency co-operation, Mr Osler reminded heads that "schools cannot go it alone" in combating social exclusion. They were limited in what they could do but still had to ensure a quality education for all. Inspectors repeatedly identified the need to raise expectations.

"I do believe we could expect more of all our pupils in all of our schools," he stated.

Alan Blackie, director of education, whose council had backed the target-setting agenda, proposed extending it to parental involvement. Schools could have targets for parents' evenings, subject seminars, fund-raising and consultations on current issues.

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