Facing the facts

6th February 2004 at 00:00
Douglas Osler has surpassed himself in his claim that members of education directorates in Scotland are characterised by mediocrity (TESS, January 30).

Indeed, one wonders if the former HM senior chief inspector has any sense of irony when he claims that part of the problem is that education professionals "choose tramlines for their careers very early on and then stay there". When was the last time that an HMSCI was appointed from outside the inspectorate?

His assertions that "around a fifth of headteachers in primary and secondary schools are unsatisfactory" (source of evidence, HMI) and that education authorities do not improve "life at the desks" (not withstanding the glowing reports HMI have given some education authorities) simply don't stand up to scrutiny.

The key issue in his article is whether education authorities add value to the experiences of young people in schools. It is a legitimate question.

The old adage that education in Scotland is centrally governed but locally administered has never been wholly true. Our councils have always had a strategic role, creating their own policies and driving their own initiatives, in many cases very innovatively and successfully. Strathclyde did so, and the tradition has been carried on in many of the new councils.

You only have to look at the Tapestry initiative to see that councils are willing to act in partnerships to promote creativity in learning and teaching. Many members of education directorates have been prominent in bringing such figures as Howard Gardner, Tony Buzan, Reuven Feuerstein and many others to Scottish teachers. They have worked with internationally acclaimed people like Professor Nigel Osborne on projects which bring together music in the mind. Mediocrity is not a word which applies here.

The ultimate irony is that Douglas Osler presided over an organisation which once exhibited most of the failings of which he accuses council directorates: mediocrity in terms of the public contributions to the educational debate; unwillingness to let individual HMIs, often hugely experienced and talented, to be themselves and to speak out on issues; in-bred in terms of its senior management.

Indeed, one wonders whether Douglas, if he were to reapply for a post in HMIE, would get one because of his outspoken views in The TES Scotland.

I hope that now HMI, members of the directorate, teachers and others are encouraged to contribute to the educational debate without fear of recriminations. We need a confident education community, reassured that being outspoken before retiral will not be an impediment to their careers and willing to share insights and expertise across all sectors.

Brian Boyd.

Reader in education Strathclyde University

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