Equality and fairness still go unrecognised

5th December 1997 at 00:00
How are we doing? How do we know? This trinity of self-evaluative questions from "How Good is Our School?" is to become the mantra of Scottish education.

When the inspector calls, schools should have the answers read to the above questions - or at least be able to show notes with rough working.

HGIOS, as it is to be in future memos throughout Scottish schools, sets out eight areas to be inspected these include curriculum, attainment, support for pupils and ethos. Within ethos, as described in Performance 5.1, schools and departments can be inspected in five themes the first of which reads "sense of identity and pride in the school; equality and fairness".

The Socialist Educational Association believe that HMI have failed to set out clearly what equality and fairness mean in educational terms nor have they allocated them their proper place with self-evaluative work in Scottish schools.

The SEA, in evaluating the work of HMI in the area of equality and fairness, believes that their performance cannot be given a Level 4 award - which would mean very good and that the work of the institution is imbued with equality of opportunity at all levels and a sense of fairness.

But rather HMIs performance in this area seems more in line with a Level 2 award - fair with important weaknesses. Such an award is illustrated by an institution where "equality and fairness do not feature significantly in its work".

The central charge of the SEA is that HMI appear to have slotted equality and fairness into ethos, tagged them on to a sense of identity and pride in school, and left them hanging there by a semi-colon. The main evidence comes from HMI reports of educational establishments throughout Scotland. Over the past year, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find mention of equality and fairness in any report from Her Majesty's Inspectors.

The terms of the illustrations show a lack of thought about practical and detailed ways to ensure equality, fairness and inclusion.

Nearly 25 years after the passing of the Race Relations Act we should not be having to rely on anybody's sense of fairness for equality of opportunity in any of the social factors - class, race, gender, sexuality and disability.

Does sensing fairness include measuring the wasted potential of those "bad boys" who do not gain Standard grade awards at any level? What about the pupils with special education needs who are not presented for Standard grade awards as the courses or the pupils are deemed unsuitable?

As we move to a Parliament and gender balance in MPs, why has the lack of women in senior management positions not been worthy of a comment in HMI Reports? The inspection of authorities will surely include their record as equal opportunities employers, won't it?

In contacting HMI about recent reports the response to the SEA has varied. One inspector issued a copy of Performance Indicator 5.1, stating that HMI would make "an overall professional judgment" and added the statement that "you can rest assured that this aspect of the work of the school would have been evaluated although no explicit comment was made in the report".

Another group of inspectors said that HM Inspectors would tend to make "implicit reference" to issues of equality and fairness while admitting that "we have not made an explicit evaluative statement using the key words "equality" and "fairness". The inspectors did offer to further consider the above points in a practical way.

Given that the idea of performance indicators were drawn from the pioneering work of Labour regional authorities, HMI should have included in a discreet manner indicators for equality and social justice from such previous schemes. The examples include "procedures to deal with and reduce incidents of discrimination and harassment"; "A curriculum which appropriately engages and challenges all learners" and one which "enables young people and adults to understand the roots and discrimination and to challenge it in themselves and others".

Labour local authorities have had examples of good practices in place yet schools have not been evaluated or noticed by HMI.

At a recent meeting the SEA, drawing upon the effective practice in this area by authorities such as South Ayrshire, Fife and Glasgow, resolved to ensure that the Labour Party has inclusion, equality and fairness as part of its performance indicators for schools. These days a sense of fairness is not enough.

David Watt is secretary of the Socialist Educational Association.

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