THE new-style inspectorate is being urged to abandon its "agenda of monitoring and professional distrust" if it is to regain the confidence of Scottish teachers.
The teachers' unions claim there is increasing evidence of schools using the HMI guidance on school-based Standards and Quality reports, including observation of classroom performance, to assess teachers formally. They say this is creating a backlash.
George MacBride, convener of the national education committee of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said such schemes should be based on teacher professionalism. "There is little doubt that some headteachers are claiming that pressure is being applied by the inspectorate to implement the Standards and Quality report and grade teachers on a scale of 1-4.
"We don't see any justification for practices that grade teachers on a numerical basis. This practice is all the worse when it is based on a few minutes of classroom observation."
The HMI best practice guide for schools to assess their own standards and quality, issued in February last year, makes it clear that classroom observation of teachers at work is an essential check on the effectiveness of teaching. This, in turn, is intended to demonstrate how schools are helping education authorities to ensure all council services are committed to delivering "best value" for the public.
In South Lanarkshire, a draft agreement on the use of planned classroom visits for school improvement has effectively drawn the sting from complaints about grading teachers.
David Liddell, the EIS local association secretary, said the draft policy is expected to be introduced in the New Year. "It is a non-threatening, voluntary model, based on co-operative teaching."
In Glasgow, where there is no agreement, the EIS has reported an increasing number of enquiries from both primary and secondary schools. Willie Hart, the local secretary, said that a number of the schemes were regarded as highly inappropriate and "reek of a appraisal mentality which involves a degree of monitoring and oversight reminiscent of the draconian checks on 19th-century industrial operatives".
According to the union, one Glasgow primary school required the person conducting the classroom monitoring to tick 62 separate boxes, with comments, and a secondary head had initially proposed a scheme in which an assistant head would mark teachers on a scale of 1-4, from unsatisfactory to very good.
Mr Hart said, "If Jack McConnell is sincere about making a fresh start and about winning the confidence of teachers, then the Education Minister could start by getting HMI to abandon its agenda of monitoring and professional distrust," he added.
The unions in East Renfrew-shire want to hammer out an agreement with the authority. Alan Munro, the local EIS secretary, said that there had been occasional lapses by some headteachers into the "crit" lesson approach. "We would be concerned at any approach that moves away from our existing provision which allows for co-operative teaching, jotter samples and cross-marking of work.
"East Renfrewshire currently encourages headteachers to make up their own monitoring policies in consultation with staff, but the unions are looking for agreed guidelines with the authority."
A union official in the south-west of Scotland said that a few heads had been "flying solo" and attempted to introduce formalised assessment of teachers, but the approach was abandoned following talks with teacher unions and local authorities.
David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said that classroom observation by senior management in schools had become more of "a bone of contention" in the past four or five years. "There is a fine line between professional autonomy and accountability. Local agreements may be appropriate but we see no need to rush into them yet," he said.
The EIS is drawing up new guidelines on "professionalism and accountability".