As arranged marriages go, the union of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education with Learning and Teaching Scotland was executed swiftly and with minimal fuss.
The announcement of the impending nuptials by Education Secretary Michael Russell earlier this year came as something of a surprise to the education community, many of whom had expected LTS to be paired off with Skills Development Scotland or the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
The merger of the two bodies - one responsible for curriculum development, the other for inspection - took place on 1 July. It will be launched with greater fanfare at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow next month.
Education Scotland, as the new agency was eventually named, enters a new era where support and challenge go hand in hand, as schools move inexorably towards full implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and the introduction of the new National 4 and 5 qualifications.
The agency is still in a transitional phase with restructuring under way and employment arrangements being harmonised. Its key players (see page 15) are likely to change as responsibilities are divided between the two organisations.
Some 50-60 staff have taken voluntary redundancies in the merger. The public face of LTS, former chief executive Bernard McLeary, has retired, as have chief inspectors Frank Crawford and Chris McIlvoy on the HMIE side.
Bill Maxwell, who had been at the helm of HMIE for only a year when the merger was announced by the Education Secretary, has been appointed transitional chief executive of Education Scotland, to lead it for its first year. His management style is said to be collegiate rather than dynamic, but most agree he is well suited to melding education professionals from two disciplines into a single organisation.
In future, inspectors will still be appointed by the Privy Council and still be called HMIs, or Her Majesty's Inspectors, but their reports will be issued by Education Scotland.
In the 1990s HMIE was criticised for effectively making education policy and then reviewing its implementation - a charge which led to its being given agency status under devolution.
Dr Maxwell insists that the new Education Scotland is not a policy body; that function will remain with the Scottish Government, ministers and their policy advisers.
"In that sense, we will not be making policy and then going to inspect against it," he says. "But we will be responsible for supporting the implementation of, for example, Curriculum for Excellence. I think there are tremendous advantages in having a `live' connection between the best practice that we're seeing in inspections and feeding that through into the kind of support materials that will help practitioners in their practice."
The new agency will create "appropriate firewalls" to manage the separation of the accountability requirement of inspection reports, he told TESS.
Education Scotland needs to have "clear lines of accountability" and will set up a protocol that will guarantee both objectivity and impartiality, he says.
Nevertheless, there must be a stronger connection than hitherto between linking the evidence uncovered from evaluation and using it in the support materials and CPD provided by those on the curriculum development side, he says.
So it seems that where best practice is encountered, its dissemination will be improved - but what will happen when inspectors find weaknesses?
The agency's new inspection framework, published on 15 August, demonstrates that it is continuing to develop the approach initiated by Dr Maxwell's predecessor, Graham Donaldson, whereby inspection is done with a school, rather than to it.
But with generational cycles of inspections replaced by a more targeted approach - a move driven to some extent by smaller budgets - comes further reform to the follow-up process in schools which demonstrate weaknesses.
In the past, HMIE would have delivered its report to the local authority to implement and stood back from the process until its return a year later to check on progress.
"Now we're able to deploy our support side to talk to the local authority and see if some of our development officers, who have expertise in that area, can come and help the local authority work with the school," says Dr Maxwell. "So we've got an ability to deploy, quite flexibly, a range of skills and expertise to help authorities."
The agency's development officers (from the LTS wing of the organisation) will not take the place of local authority quality improvement officers, he insists.
"What we can't do - and what we don't have the resources to do - is to take up the roles of quality development officers in local authorities," says Dr Maxwell.
"We're not about to become a QIO service. Apart from anything else, we're looking to make efficiencies on a similar scale to other public bodies. We're not about to move into that space, but we will be able to help them more effectively. I hope that we'll be able to provide more targeted and intelligent support," he adds.
The support role of HMIE came to the fore last autumn, when it suspended its inspection of secondary schools and focused instead on giving support to those struggling with Curriculum for Excellence implementation.
This was, says Dr Maxwell, a forerunner to the way that Education Scotland will be able to "choreograph its support and inspection challenge to the system in a more flexible way".
"We're continuing to build in some support activities, as a follow-up to that work. We're continuing to talk to local authorities about how effectively their schools are getting ready for CfE," he explains.
"We've put down some internal thinking about how we did that work and how we could do it better. We have also fed back to the CfE management board about what our conclusions were."
Some commentators are quick to point out that the best HMIs have always sought to combine inspection with support, however the inspectorate was organised. One former HMI cited the work of Jack Jackson in promoting science and Lachie MacCallum in history as prime examples of the development and support work that the inspectorate has always carried out.
While it has never been a function of HMIE to inspect Learning and Teaching Scotland as a body, the question nevertheless arises of whether the new agency's quality assurance wing could, or would, be critical of its curriculum development wing.
"We've never inspected LTS as such," says Dr Maxwell, "but we have gathered evidence of whether what the support body is trying to do is working or not. It seems to me to be in everybody's best interest that we do that robustly and we feed that evidence straight back into the organisation.
"I think we will be able to do that even better, so that we can adjust what we're doing on the support side in ways that will get better impact. What you don't want is the opposite extreme - two entirely separate organisations that never speak to each other, or bodies carrying on with no desire to learn from inspection."
Alan Taylor, a national official with the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, is sceptical about the potential benefits of merging two bodies, of which he is highly critical.
"From the teachers' point of view, we would welcome anything that would make both lots better - although I don't suppose it will. I suspect it's just a money-saving device," he told TESS.
He describes LTS's leadership of Curriculum for Excellence as "low-key" and the schools' intranet Glow as "a damp squib" whose materials are difficult to find and access. Its web-based approach to curriculum support has not been effective, he says, because "most teachers don't have time to look at websites when they are not sure if there is something new there".
HMIE has been obsessed with paperwork and evidence and still "frightens the life out of schools", he argues, despite its claims of being supportive.
"We (the SSTA) are quite critical of both groups, so cutting down the numbers of both would not do a lot of harm, but we would rather see them being more effective," he says.
He has seen little evidence of HMIE bringing significant benefits to the schools it supported last year, when it suspended inspection to concentrate on helping those that lacked confidence in their progress towards Curriculum for Excellence.
He wants the new agency to "tell us what the good way is and we will use it and adapt it".
Teachers want some reassurance that what they are doing is "the right kind of thing", but they are not getting that, he claims.
Larry Flanagan, education convener of the EIS union, is used to sitting next to representatives of both LTS and HMIE on national committees, such as the Curriculum for Excellence management board. He will continue to seek meetings with people from both wings of the new agency, arguing that they bring different perspectives. Dr Maxwell concedes that Education Scotland may send two representatives with different areas of expertise to sit on such bodies in the future.
The EIS's internal surveys of schools immediately post-inspection provide evidence that HMIE's more partnership-oriented approach has paid dividends.
"The most recent was the most positive for a number of years," says Mr Flanagan.
Under Graham Donaldson, the inspectorate underwent "a huge change of mindset", he acknowledges. "That required a huge mind shift from a lot of the `dyed in the wool', old-style inspectors". It also required a lot of internal CPD, he says.
He is hopeful that this more supportive, collegiate approach will continue in the new agency. His concerns centre more on Education Scotland's capacity to continue delivering curricular support, if that side of the operation has lower staffing and is less well resourced.
He urges Dr Maxwell to continue the practice of seconding teachers from schools to do curriculum development work, arguing that the longer core staff are away from school, the more removed they become from the day-to- day implementation of policy. Dr Maxwell assured TESS that this practice would continue.
The next year is expected to be something of a "holding operation" as the new agency settles down. Looking further into the future, however, there is speculation that Education Scotland could become a "super-quango", taking the Scottish Qualifications Authority into its fold.
That idea has supporters and opponents, the latter arguing that such a move would be inappropriate, given that the SQA is a much more commercially based body than the other two. Whatever the final outcome, it is unlikely to happen before the new National 4 and 5 qualifications are delivered - the SQA has no need of unnecessary distractions.
THE CHALLENGES FOR EDUCATION SCOTLAND
Integration of former Learning and Teaching Scotland staff, and new secondees, into civil service structure
Implementation of Curriculum for Excellence
Curricular support for new National 4 and 5 qualifications
Delivery of the new inspection framework
Estates strategy - Livingston (former main centre of HMIE) will be the agency's headquarters, but there will still be bases in Glasgow, Dundee and elsewhere. Potential synergies will be considered;
Glow - the Scottish Government is carrying out a re-procurement exercise of the schools intranet (the current contract runs out in 2012)
Development of the National Assessment Resource
Integration of the National CPD and the Positive Behaviour teams
New projects, including a review of science and education.
pound;31.95 million The Education Scotland budget for 2011-12
pound;38.38m The combined HMIE and LTS budget for 2010-11 (excluding the National CPD and Scottish Government Positive Behaviour teams at pound;602,000 and pound;620,000 respectively)
373 The number of Education Scotland employees on 1 August 2011, although more appointments are being made
538 The number of employees LTS and HMIE had between them on 1 August 2010
Sir Andrew Cubie: lawyer by profession, best known for chairing the independent inquiry into student finance over a decade ago; chair of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership, among others.
Shirley Young: specialist in the field of equality and diversity; member of the Scottish Committee of the Big Lottery Fund for Scotland.
Gary Kildare: Global Vice President of human resources for the IBM corporation.
Graeme Ogilvy: leading member of civil engineering and construction industry in Scotland
Louise Hayward: professor in the School of Education, Glasgow University; trained originally as an English teacher and specialised in learning support.
Iain Nisbet: head of education law, Govan Law Centre.
Moi Ali: communications consultant; member of the Lord Chancellor's review bodies and a Public Appointments Ambassador for the Cabinet Office, as well as a mentor on the Public Leadership Programme.
Charles Lovatt: entrepreneur; Teaching Fellow at the School of Management at St Andrew's University, trustee of the National Library of Scotland, and member of the board of management at Elmwood College.
David Morrison: tax partner with EQ, chartered accountants in Dundee.
EDUCATION SCOTLAND: WHO'S WHO?
Bill Maxwell Transitional chief executive officer. Was HM senior chief inspector of education, a post he took up in 2010 after serving two years as head of the Welsh inspectorate, Estyn. He is an educational psychologist by training.
Alastair Delaney Chief inspector.
Responsible for the school inspection programmes for pre-school, primary and the independent sector, and for the business planning strategy in the setting up of Education Scotland.
Ken Muir Chief inspector.
Responsible for school inspection programmes for secondary and further education; and for inspection policy in the set-up phase.
Neil McKechnie Chief inspector.
Responsible for inspection programmes in special schools and for the inclusion, diversity and equalities agenda; also responsible for the learning and development strategy in the set-up phase.
Gill Robinson Chief inspector.
Responsible for inspection and capacity-building programmes in local authorities and community learning development, also for local authority scrutiny strategy in the set-up phase.
Alan Armstrong Director of curriculum and assessment.
Responsible for the delivery of guidance and support for curriculum areas, assessment and reporting; also responsible for the staffing transfer project in setting up Education Scotland.
Anne Jardine Acting director of learning and community.
Responsible for the delivery of support programmes for community learning and development; and for the integration of the Positive Behaviour team in the setting up of the new organisation.
Kay Livingston Director of international research and innovation.
Responsible for international issues, Glow and emerging technologies; and for the integration of the National CPD team in the set-up phase.
Stuart Robinson Director of corporate services.
Responsible for corporate services, including finance, human resources, communications, estate, business management and administration and for the infrastructure projects - human resources, finance, communications and ICT - in the set-up phase.
Maggie Tierney Director of organisational development programme (on secondment from Scottish Government).
Responsible for developing and implementing the organisational development programme to ensure successful change management of business processes and structures and staffing arrangements for Education Scotland.
Catherine MacIntyre Professional adviser, policy and governance.
Works with the chief executive on development and delivery of corporate and educational policies; has cross-organisational responsibilities, as well as advising the management board and managing the chief executive's business unit.