Donaldson defies critics

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Scotland leads the world in school inspections, according to the outgoing HMIE chief

The outgoing head of the inspectorate has mounted a robust defence of his organisation, as one of Scotland's leading headteachers calls for fundamental changes in the way schools are inspected.

In an interview with The TESS to mark his last day as senior chief inspector of education after almost eight years in charge, Graham Donaldson says he believes the reforms he began in 2003 have led to a shift in the negative perception inspection previously had.

"We are now seen very much as part of the process of improvement, not just as a referee standing on the sidelines making judgments and then walking away," he said.

Meanwhile, Danny Murphy, head of Lornshill Academy in Alloa, who led the Scottish Qualification for Headship for some years, described the inspection regime as "unreliable, limited and simplistic".

His critique was prompted only partly by the suicide of Galashiels head Irene Hogg following the inspection of her school. In his interview with The TESS last week, Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, said inspection was not as "supportive" as it should be.

But Mr Donaldson hit back, pointing out that while the new form of inspection was "a work in progress", it enjoyed more confidence. This was confirmed in the recent survey carried out by the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, which showed that 80 per cent of primary heads said their inspections had been a "positive experience" and by the regular independent surveys HMIE conducted to obtain feedback.

Any suggestion that there should be appeals against inspection results or a revisiting of original decisions would simply be "a recipe for endless inspection", he said, adding: "We stand or fall by the judgments we make and we have to be able to defend them. Complaints cannot be about the judgments, but about the process - whether the judgments were arrived at in such a way as to suggest they might not be well-founded."

Mr Donaldson said HMIE puts considerable efforts into the professional development of its inspectors to make sure they apply the quality indicators in How Good Is Our School? (HGIOS) to make sound evaluations. Only two cases of a disputed inspection had gone to the Ombudsman, who found in favour of HMIE on both occasions.

He believes he has changed the culture of the inspectorate. "One of the things I try to impress on new inspectors is that the first thing on their minds when they go into a school should be: `What am I going to learn today?', not `What am I going to tell them today'," he said.

Mr Donaldson also took issue with Mr Murphy's criticisms of HGIOS. This approach to school evaluation was regarded as a world-leader which had been adopted in many other countries and translated into 16 languages, he said.

But, he continued, if external inspection was to mean anything, it had to have "bite", and he would be more worried if nobody complained about it.

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