One of our wittier education officials was once overheard to say that his authority, which had been experiencing unsettled times, had a very important function in Scottish education - to make everybody else feel good about themselves. The same might be said about Ofsted south of the border in relation to HMIE. This week's columns reflect again the challenges facing the inspectorate in Scotland, as it tries to adopt a "cuddlier" persona and balance rigour with support.
A glance across the border, however, should make Scottish teachers reflect on whether they should be praising HMIE rather than seeking to bury it. Our sister paper, The TES, reported last week that the Ofsted regime has taken to writing to pupils as young as four saying, in effect, that their school is failing them. One inspector warned pupils in a Nottinghamshire primary: "You are not well prepared for your next stage of education, nor your future adult lives." This is an innovative approach to motivation.
As has often been said, Scotland should not shelter behind comparisons with England. The inspectorate in Scotland has, however, shown signs of significant reform in its dealings with schools and colleges, as even an arch critic like Brian Boyd concedes. But the experience of Sandy McAulay shows how far removed these good intentions are from the experiences of some schools.
The truth is that the inspectorate in Scotland is here to stay: neither the public nor, more importantly, national politicians would trust local authorities to police a self-evaluation regime. So long as satisfaction levels with the way inspectors are doing their job are running at 90 per cent, so long as the crudities of insensitive inspection elsewhere reflect well on the Scottish approach and so long as the reformist agenda is not confined to the top of the inspectorate, HMIE should feel safe.