Doubt whether an inspectorate is needed

22nd August 2008 at 01:00

The recent changes to the inspection regime announced by Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, are long overdue, yet there is little which indicates that HMIE as an organisation has learned any lessons from its practice in recent years.

The stress induced by an inspection is disproportionate to the contribution it makes to the improvement of the establishment and those who work in it. It is unacceptable to dismiss as "urban myths" the real, if anecdotal, evidence of staff in educational establishments across Scotland who are traumatised by inspections. To suggest that somehow headteachers are to blame for not putting a positive spin on forthcoming inspections is ludicrous.

Undoubtedly, there are teams of HMIE who go out of their way to put staff at ease, who engage in professional dialogue and who see their role as supportive. This, I contend, is the experience of the minority.

There are individual inspectors, notably subject specialists, who have the respect of their colleagues and there are senior members of the inspectorate who are unfailingly forward thinking. There is even the Journey to Excellence website, which is wholly positive in its intent. But it is the inspection process which is flawed, in principle and in practice.

The solution is to have "intelligent accountability" based on professional trust. Thus, self-evaluation, which HMIE claimed to have introduced in the 1990s, should be the norm, supported by critical friends from within the authority. It should be rigorous, collegial and focused on improving the quality and consistency of learning and teaching. Improving education should be a partnership effort involving all stakeholders.

The question is not whether inspection should be based on a four- or six- point scale, or whether "satisfactory" equals "adequate" or even whether anyone knows what "excellent" means. It is whether, in a mature education system, we need an inspectorate at all. Unless it adds value to the system, I am doubtful.

Brian Boyd, faculty of education, Strathclyde University.

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