'End the climate of fear';News

24th December 1999 at 00:00
EIS steps up its attack on inspectors and urges minister to intervene in growing crisis of confidence

The Educational Institute of Scotland has mounted its most ferocious assault yet on the integrity of HMI, accusing it of operating "a climate of fear."

The EIS suggests there is now virtually a "serious breakdown in trust" between teachers and inspectors which is putting at risk the work of the McCrone committee of inquiry and the wider relationship between the profession and the Government.

The union has been making these allegations on and off for the past few years. But the tone and severity of its latest remarks indicate that it will refuse to let the issue drop, despite the continued insistence by ministers that they set policy not the inspectorate.

Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, has now written to Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, calling on him to intervene to resolve a "growing crisis of confidence" in HMI. The diminution in trust would affect the union's attitude to the McCrone committee, he warned.

Mr Galbraith has already illustrated the fine line between making policy and implementing it when he said he could not discard the evidence gathered during inspections. The HMI estimate it will spend the equivalent of 8,000 days in schools in the coming year.

Mr Smith said the Scottish Executive must now "consider a serious, consensual approach to change and development with real long-term planning built into the process. Teachers support change and recognise that a changing society places ever-increasing demands on the education service. The Government must, before it is too late, allow genuine dialogue to start and genuine partnership to develop.

"The top-down model, imposed currently in a climate of fear and uncertainty by the inspectorate, with the Scottish Executive, other educational agencies and indeed teachers and parents as mere bystanders in the process, is manifestly not working. Only when teachers feel and genuinely are part of the process of change will change work."

These remarks show that the repeated pledges of partnership and tributes to teachers' commitment, which are features of virtually all speeches by Mr Galbraith and Peter Peacock, his deputy, have failed to carry conviction. But the EIS's latest salvo, while it may apply some political pressure on the inspectorate, is more likely to irritate the upper echelons of the Executive where union "whinges" have few friends.

The EIS's fury with HMI pronouncements reached a climax with the inspectors' reports on writing, science, maths and target-setting (pages 4,5 and last week). But it is not just the contents of the reports to which the EIS objects. The union says they reflect on the behaviour and competence of the inspectorate which has moved from "a culture of support to a culture of blame." The HMI is also accused of driving through "prematurely" initiatives such as 5-14 and Higher Still.

Mr Smith condemned the handling of these "negative" reports which were issued 24 hours after another HMI report on teacher discipline and dismissal. "The timing is no accident," he said. "It deliberately feeds the hunger of those sections of the media hell-bent on an anti-teacher and anti-school agenda and is set to create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear.

"It is deeply demoralising for a teaching force already subject to massive changes in the curriculum and facing a period of great uncertainty while the McCrone inquiry continues its deliberations."

The EIS finds particularly galling the criticism of schools' failure to implement the 5-14 programme properly, which is a main focus of the science and writing reports. This is "deeply offensive" when teachers have been told repeatedly of the programme's "huge flaws", Mr Smith says. It is "insulting" that this criticism is levelled at 5-14 environmental studies which was found to be "so flawed and so unworkable" that a working party had to be created to rescue it.

The union says in its Christmas greeting to ministers that it intends to challenge "questionable assertions and figures" in the recent reports, going so far as to claim they are driven by predetermined political considerations

Leader, page 12.

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