Council takes HMI's brickbat on the chin

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
East Dunbartonshire is to go well beyond the action demanded by HMI in the critical inspection report of the council's education service, its chief executive has revealed.

Vicki Nash said special meetings of the education committee and the full council on March 27 would be asked to approve a 33-point action plan.

The Inspectorate outlined only six main points of action for the council to pursue before a follow-up visit, which the Education Minister has demanded must be made within a year instead of the normal two years.

HMI accused East Dunbartonshire of lacking vision, leadership and good management and described relationships with some secondary heads as "strained and sometimes acrimonious". Nothing in its performance was rated very good or good, in contrast to Highland's report, published on the same day, which judged 10 quality aspects to be good.

In a report to councillors last week, Ms Nash repeated her initial view that the report overall was "a fair reflection of the authority". She told The TES Scotland later that "now is not the time for whingeing", but it is clear the council is smarting at what it regards as different approaches taken towards Highland and East Dunbartonshire, the first two authorities inspected under the new legislative powers in the education Act.

Ms Nash said: "There are issues of consistency in reporting and that is no doubt something the Inspectorate will wish to address. The Highland report, for example, was very forceful in its references to the authority's schools performing above the national average in exam results. The same could have been said of East Dunbartonshire, but wasn't. Why?" The report on East Dunbartonshire did indicate that 5-14 test results were "well above national average figures", although that applied to primary not the first two years of secondary. The council's schools also performed well "in comparison to authorities with similar characteristics".

Standard grade and Higher esults were also described as "well above national average figures". One unspoken implication could be that East Dunbartonshire's schools, whose pupils enjoy more comfortable backgrounds than the average, might have done even better.

Ms Nash also took issue with the way HMI presented the views of headteachers who will now be key figures in the council's recovery plan. The inspectors based their judgment that there were "varied views" on the effectiveness of the authority's communications on comments from "a very small minority of secondary headteachers".

Since there were only nine secondary heads, Ms Nash commented, it would have been helpful if inspectors had quantified this minority.

HMI would not be drawn into reaction to East Dunbartonshire's reservations. The Inspectorate is happy that its arrangements ensure consistency across authorities. While school reports are the responsibility of each of HMI's three territorial divisions and are approved by a reporting officer, education authority reports are signed off centrally by Bill Clark, chief inspector in charge of the quality, standards and audit division.

The report has plunged East Dunbartonshire into a flurry of activity, suggesting the new inspection powers could become a powerful weapon for the Scottish Executive.

Its action plan will be drawn up by a task force whose membership will itself be subject to consultation. Benchmarks will be established so progress can be measured.

At Ms Nash's suggestion, the council will seek an "advisory revisit" from HMI in the autumn and plans to keep in touch with the district inspectorate. The intention, she said, is "to provide assurances to the Inspectorate, to the minister, to schools, teachers and parents, that the council continues to make progress on the points identified in the inspection report".

Her involvement also points to an increasing hands-on role for chief executives in the running of education departments.

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