Authorities: remember why you exist

12th December 2003 at 00:00
I read Douglas Blane's article "The gauntlet and the hand of support" in TES Scotland (November 21) with interest. It debated the issues around the changing roles of HM Inspectorate of Education and the education authorities.

Ken Greer, senior education manager in Fife, argued that "Inspectors can 'comment, influence, encourage, facilitate and exhort, but to maintain their independence they must not do'."

The front page of TES Scotland that week talked about directors of education digging in "to fight school snatch".

I often read such articles with a certain detachment, wondering in what ways these new moves will affect our pupils, staff, school and community. A certain glaze comes over my eyes and I read on as quickly as I can until I come to something else in my high pile of papers which will affect our lives radically, such as personal learning plans, should they require to be implemented too quickly without support.

Let me unpick a few of the messages within Douglas Blane's article.

Directors of education seem to be upset by the proposal to give Ministers powers of last resort to intervene "where education authorities do not make improvements recommended by school inspectors". The Education Minister, Peter Peacock, explained that this just plugged a gap in the legislation.

Where education authorities know and really support their schools there should be no difficulties or gaps. If there are, then pupils, their parents and staff deserve support to get things right.

Directors of education were also further upset by Frank Pignatelli, education director in the former Strathclyde region, when he questioned the value added to schools by council education departments.

At this point I found myself wanting to add a workshop to last month's Association of Directors of Education in Scotland conference, where council education staffs had got together for their annual meeting. I would have invited all delegatesl to take five minutes individually to list ways they had added value to schools over the previous week,

* then to prioritise these in ways their schools would agree they had added value,

* to come together in groups to analyse what they were doing andl to find out what headteachers, pupils and parents might perceive to be gaps.

Political arguments remain about the democracy of local government delivering education services versus a centralised national education service and the difficulties which could result from that, but could it be possible for one to be more helpful to the other?

Let me illustrate this point at our local level and only in one area of the school on this occasion.

Queensferry Primary is soon to have its first Care Commission inspection of the nursery. I would love to send my written report of this in a sealed envelope to TES Scotland and wait to see how closely it resembled the real thing in January.

From some centralised place came the requirement for annual inspections of nurseries, and presumably the considerable amount of money to make this possible. With it came the requirement for a long list of written policies to be produced, including a whistle-blowing policy.

We had many policies about transition from the nursery to Primary 1 and many curriculum policies but no whistle-blowing policy. Could the organisation which dreamt this up not have sent electronic versions of draft policies to each education department for onward transmission to each centre where they could be easily modified to suit local needs? Instead, each centre must spend time away from the children gathering together such policies.

I'm not sure of the logic of the Care Commission inspecting local education authority nurseries annually anyway, when schools require a much lighter touch from HMIE. Play groups and private nurseries, with their much faster turn-around of staff, perhaps need this snapshot but support for local authority nurseries would be better in the form of inspections from HMIE along with the school inspection and the financial saving given over to paint and upgrading the nursery premises.

Practical support for council nurseries from the education department seems to have given way to support for private provider nurseries in recent years, with the addition of many salaries dedicated to this work. However, an evaluation of those ADES workshop materials I dreamt of might tell me a very different story.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary, Edinburghwww.queensferry-ps.edin.sch.ukIf you have any comments, e-mail

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