Estyn chief inspector heads home

5th February 2010 at 00:00
Mediocre schools and failing authorities have faced his wrath. But as Dr Bill Maxwell returns to Scotland, many will be sorry to see him go

Little more than two years ago, Dr Bill Maxwell greeted teachers in Wales with a bore da in his broad Scottish accent and a promise to shake things up.

But next week the Estyn chief inspector will say his goodbyes and return to his homeland, having helped transform the Welsh inspection system and laid down some tough challenges for the future.

Although many in the education profession think he is leaving prematurely, there is no doubt that Dr Maxwell has achieved much during his brief tenure as head of the Welsh inspectorate.

With a reputation for being a no-nonsense kind of man, Dr Maxwell arrived in Wales in December 2007 all guns blazing, immediately laying into poor- performing local authorities and failing schools in his first annual report.

Despite his criticisms, teaching unions warmed to Dr Maxwell. They appreciated his open and honest style and, though there were some grumbles that he could have been tougher on the Government, they are sad to see him go.

He was not afraid to land some big punches, taking schools to task over underachievement and mediocrity, and attacking councils for failing to tackle surplus places and crumbling classrooms.

But speaking to TES Cymru, he said he would leave the Welsh education system in "good heart", confident that policy developments would serve the country well.

He said: "I leave with a deep enthusiasm about the future direction of travel for education in Wales.

"I have been struck by the willingness of different bodies involved in education to openly discuss, debate and collaborate.

"I've been particularly impressed by the enthusiasm for a specific Welsh approach to developing the curriculum.

"I think there are many strong features in the Welsh policy agenda, from the foundation phase to the Welsh Baccalaureate.

"Wales has been through a very substantial process of developing new policy and is now rightly switching the focus to embedding the policies and getting best value out of them."

Dr Maxwell's proudest achievement at Estyn has been to take forward a radical redesign of the school inspection framework, which will come into force this September and is designed to make the inspection process less daunting.

Education providers will now get just four weeks' notice that inspectors are due. Reports will be shorter and concentrate more on good practice rather than shortcomings, and underperforming schools will be subject to more scrutiny during follow-up inspections.

Dr Maxwell said: "I'm proud of the work I have done with my colleagues at Estyn, not only in examining the nature and purpose of inspection and how we can make the inspection process more accountable, but also driving best practice and informing the development of national policy. I think we have made a big difference and set a very strategic direction."

In his new role as Scotland's senior chief inspector for education, Dr Maxwell has promised to improve links between Wales and Scotland.

He said: "I'm sure Scotland can learn from the experiences over the last decade of improving and developing Welsh education, particularly policies like the foundation phase and the Welsh Baccalaureate."

His last official duty in Wales was the launch of his third annual report last week, but Dr Maxwell has one more important engagement to fulfil before he leaves - an international rugby match between his homeland and his adopted home.

The Six Nations clash between Wales and Scotland takes place at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium next Saturday. So where will his loyalties lie? "Well, I wear a rugby scarf which is half-Wales and half-Scotland, so you might say they're divided," he said. "Whatever the result, it will be a good send-off."

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