Ethos 'torn apart' by HMI

4th June 1999 at 01:00
THE WINNER of last year's Scottish Office-sponsored ethos award has condemned a subsequent inspection for "tearing apart" the good work of his school and damaging teachers' morale.

Bill Ball, headteacher of Cramond primary, Edinburgh, told this year's ethos award ceremony in Crieff last week that the inspection was negative, drawn out and stressful. It undermined the credibility of the whole inspection process and ran counter to the approach of the ethos network.

Mr Ball, in the presence of Frank Crawford, head of the Scottish Office audit unit, said he had never experienced such stress in his teaching career. "I was quite traumatised by the report."

HMI had focused narrowly on attainment and failed to praise the good work across the school that had won the award. "If it had not been for the ethos we have built up over the year, the school would be falling apart right now," he said.

He had no inkling of the devastation the inspectors would create in a school he would put in the top third of the top band of primaries. After picking up the ethos award and a cheque for pound;2,000, he was told in June he was being inspected in September. A draft report was presented in October and published in January. But it was March before the process was completed."It is an incredible amount of time to be stressed out and it was an emotional roller-coaster," he said.

Mr Ball added: "I had never been through a standard inspection process like this before. I really did not think they would tear apart the work of my colleagues so negatively. Very few teachers had positive things pointed out to them. Staff were left feeling - once the inspectors were gone - that there were major problems in the school. And we just don't have them."

He later told The TES Scotland: "I have no problem with the concept of external evaluation. I have been in the school for 11 years and it's not a problem if we need a push here or there. It maybe looks like sour grapes but it's the process at fault. The question is how are we going to move schools forward in a positive way."

Mr Ball said the point of the ethos network was to recognise success and share it. Inspectors should go into schools, look at aspects that are very good and build on that in a positive context.

His staff had little confidence in inspectors who criticised lessons in mathematics and reading when they had no background in primary teaching. Parents fully supported the school and backed the staff, as did the local authority.

Tim Brighouse, chief education officer in Birmingham, and a keynote speaker, sprang to Mr Ball's defence. "I was shocked because I believed the model north of the border was more civilised, humane and developmental," Professor Brighouse said.

He added: "The most stressful period of my life was when OFSTED inspected Birmingham for nine months. I could not sleep at night until the inspection process was finished. I have seen people's careers finished after inspections."

The inspectors' performance bordered on "professional disgrace and injustice".

Professor Louise Stoll, of Bath University, said in a later contribution:

"Where there is blame and shame, it is very hard to pick yourself up from that."


HMI spoiled the party for ethos winning head Bill Ball and a school where the jannie isn't afraid to strike up a tune on his cello l HMI pressed Cramond staff to raise attainment by adjusting key aspects of English language, maths and environmental studies. Lessons were judged very good in 14 per cent of cases, good in 53 per cent and fair in 33 per cent. There were no unsatisfactory lessons.

"Teachers' plans should identify more clearly the key skills pupils are expected to learn and ensure that targets for pupils provide appropriate and consistent challenge," the inspectors stated.

They also urged staff to make better use of assessment information to identify next steps.

Leader, page 20

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