School inspection ‘more stressful’ in England than Scotland

This headteacher with experience either side of the border also says more frequent inspection may be a good thing

School inspection ‘more stressful’ in England than Scotland

Having been inspected by Ofsted and also the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) in England, both as a head of department and a headteacher – as well as being a team inspector for more years than I wish to remember – I found the recent inspection of my school in Scotland fascinating.

The structure and processes adopted by Ofsted and ISI in England, and those of Education Scotland inspectors and the Care Inspectorate for boarding in Scotland, are quite different.

Of course, we all want the same outcome: inspectors to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of the school, and heads to be able to demonstrate the best practice being delivered by teaching and support staff.

The criteria are clear in both England and Scotland. The process of self-evaluation is also similar, as is the opportunity to read the schools’ performance and rate its value. ISI judgement is on a four-value statements scale, whereas, in Scotland, school inspectors judge on a scale of one to six, the latter being “outstanding”, which is rarely achieved.

Another difference is that Education Scotland is responsible for the inspection of all schools, both maintained and independent, and all schools are judged against the same criteria.

What is most definitely also the same is the trepidation experienced when awaiting confirmation of the inspectors’ visit, and in the relaying of this information to a nervous staff body. Upon hearing the words from the head, “If you’ve done what you should have done, it will all be fine”, there follows a lengthy queue for the photocopier to gather the information that inspectors had requested. Our school actually ran out of paper the week before our recent inspection!

Missing link

Having taught in the maintained sector, and in independent, boys, girls and coeducational schools, it is gratifying to realise that inspection is consistent throughout the sectors, and on both sides of the border.

What is different, though, is that in Scotland each school has a “link inspector” who will visit the school once a year to discuss progress of plans and hear any issues the school might be experiencing.

In my first year back in Scotland in 2015, when I was told an inspector was in reception, I went into high-adrenaline overdrive, assuming that we were having a full, spot inspection – before realising that they had just popped in to see how things were going.

Over the past few years, our assigned inspector has developed a real understanding of our school and what we’ve been trying to achieve, which, when it came to the full inspection, really helped us to show our school, Kilgraston, at its best.

Even 12 inspectors over five days might miss some of your school’s best features. Two weeks’ notice helped us to prepare and, as full inspections in Scotland should only occur every eight-to-10 years, there was indeed a great deal to show.

So, perhaps then there is something to be learned from the English system, where inspections are much more regular. Our inspection at Kilgraston went very well – a message conveyed to much-relieved staff by the lead inspector on the Friday afternoon.

However, when I added that it had been the least stressful inspection I had ever gone through, staff were unsure whether to laugh or cry!

Dorothy MacGinty is head of Kilgraston School in Perthshire, Scotland

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