Four-year standstill in drive for quality

14th June 1996 at 01:00
Neil Munro summarises the Inspectorate's verdict on the nation's schools.

Scottish schools have the same major weaknesses as they had four years ago, according to a major "state of the nation" report issued this week by the Inspectorate.

Standards and Quality in Scottish Schools surveys a three-year period from 1992-95, based on inspections of 260 primaries and 80 secondaries. Along with other specialist visits, HMI evidence has been accumulated from a total of 9,000 primary classes and 12,000 secondary classes.

Despite a relentless drive to improve school quality and development planning since the previous report in 1991-92, English writing, problem-solving in maths and environmental studies are causing the same concerns in primary schools. The first two years of secondary also "continued to provide a disappointing picture", Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, states in his foreword.

Mr Osler acknowledges that teaching is very good or good in 85 per cent of primaries and 80 per cent of subject departments in secondaries. "Much that we report is of high quality and justifies a continuing pride in the Scottish education system," he adds.

But the figures also reveal deficiencies. "Management by headteachers was unsatisfactory in 5 per cent of primary schools; across the country that would represent more than 100 schools under unsatisfactory management. In over 20 per cent of secondary schools, leadership required improvement; that would represent more than 80 schools."

Figures three years ago also showed unsatisfactory management in 5 per cent of primaries and that improvements were required in 28 per cent of secondaries.

Mr Osler told reporters on Wednesday that seeking a 100 per cent performance from schools was a necessary ambition. Running an education system was not like making the trains run on time.

"Five per cent of late trains simply means a few disgruntled, irritated customers, but providing anything less than the best in schools affects the future for a whole lot of young people," he said.

Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, nodded vigorously at this. While Mr Robertson welcomed the positive messages in the report he said he was glad to see that the Inspectorate was far from complacent.

* Primary school weaknesses highlighted in the report indicate fair or unsatisfactory standards in: English language writing (30 per cent of schools); number, money and measurement (25 per cent); maths problem-solving (55 per cent); environmental studies (40 per cent); drama (30 per cent); other world religions (60 per cent).

* Secondary schools rated fair or unsatisfactory in: S1-S2 courses (35 per cent); the level of challenge for S1-S2 pupils (40 per cent); religious and moral education at all stages (50 per cent); the lack of account taken of pupils' primary school experiences.

Mr Osler made it clear he intends to place these findings centre-stage so long as he is in charge of the Inspectorate. He is to write to every director of education and every school drawing attention to the report's implications.

Seminars are planned for local authorities and schools, and reports on standards and quality are to be published every three years.

The Inspectorate will also pile the pressure on schools to paint a similar picture of their own.

"As part of their audit and review process, schools might consider periodically preparing their own statements of standards and quality using HM inspectors' published performance indicators and following the headings of this report," Mr Osler states, "and then making these available to parents."

The report identifies a number of more general weaknesses where, for example, primaries are urged to improve their assessment and recording schemes (30 per cent are deficient), complete the introduction of national testing, do more for able pupils, and use homework more effectively (only 30 per cent did so).

Secondaries are asked to make better use of assessment information, introduce national testing, provide for more able pupils, use homework more effectively, and make "more frequent and effective use of praise".

Mr Osler said on Wednesday that extra inspections might be undertaken in weak areas highlighted in the report such as English and maths. He expected, however, that these would improve as the 5-14 programme "bedded down".

But the chief inspector also urged schools to tackle problems directly, for example by using flexibility time in primaries.

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