Dispelling that 'climate of fear'

7th January 2000 at 00:00
LIKE the Queen, HMI rarely responds directly to criticism. When it goes on the record, it does so through a supportive statement by its minister. So we cannot expect Douglas Osler, the head of the Inspectorate, to sally forth with an outraged rebuttal of the attack by the Educational Institute of Scotland in Christmas week.

A response should be made, however. The EIS has claimed a "serious breakdown in trust" between teachers and inspectors, and that may imperil the success of the McCrone inquiry into the future of the profession. There could hardly be a more serious charge, since for a century and a half HMI and the teachers they observe and report on have maintained a civilised relationship whose inevitable tensions have been relieved by (usually) good natured barbs and sallies. Rnnie Smith on behalf of the EIS has suddenly changed the tone.

The Inspectorate might express disbelief. Mr Osler has gone out of his way to emphasise the openness of the service, which of course can include not hiding bad news in protective opacity. More is known about HMI's practices and priorities than ever before, but that does not prove reassuring to all teachers, or indeed to education authorities fearful of centralist intrusion.

If the EIS's charge of "a climate of fear" is allowed to go unchallenged, it will gain credibility. That is bound to be the case whether it is justified or exaggerated. Teachers will assume, as the EIS argues, that inspectors' role is to find fault rather than be supportive. A new year, a new century is a good moment to clear the air.

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