Fury at HMI ambush

11th June 1999 at 01:00
Snap 'care and welfare' visit raises union hackles over 'hostile and unsupportive' inspections

HM INSPECTORS, once viewed as a valued friend and confidant, are losing the support of teachers because of their overtly political agenda, leaders of the Educational Institute of Scotland will claim this weekend at their annual conference in Perth.

Discontent rose as inspectors earlier this week named and shamed Musselburgh Grammar as a failing school following an unannounced care and welfare inspection. Fred Forrester, the EIS's deputy general secretary, warned that the scale of loathing could reach that levelled at the Office for Standards in Education south of the border.

Delegates at Perth are expected to pass a motion from Glasgow calling for a review of the Inspectorate, adding to recent criticism from headteachers and directors of education.

Mr Forrester said the union was concerned that spot care and welfare inspections would spread into other areas of schools. "You get a snapshot which may not be accurate," he suggested.

The checks, conducted over several days, were introduced a year ago following concerns about abuse at Donaldson's College in Edinburgh and bullying at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway.

"We were always fearful that this door could be prised open wider," Mr Forrester said. "Inspectors do not stick to care and welfare. They look at leadership in the school and this is not fair. Leadership is something you deal with in a standard or extended inspection and not in a truncated, unannounced visit."

Alan Blackie, director of education in East Lothian, said the Musselburgh inspection was "supposed to be about care and welfare but strayed into ethos, management and leadership" and was "overly negative and inaccurate in some aspects", although he stands by the broad findings.

Ken Corsar, director in Glasgow, and a spokesman for the Association of Directors of Education, warned of the "dangers of quality assurance overkill". Directors want to rationalise quality assurance mechanisms, including HMI inspections, local authority checks and best value reports.

The association recently condemned the Inspectorate over its hardline stance on target-setting and its refusal to accept variations in the national structure. Mr Corsar said: "We do want partnership but the more things that come between us and the teaching force, the more difficulties we have in sustaining that partnership."

Meanwhile, a groundswell of opposition is growing among teachers. Mr Forrester said: "At one time, the teacher looked upon the inspector as a fellow professional and a friend. You could talk about a problem and get confidential advice. No teacher would now raise a matter of that kind. There is now hostility to HMIs beyond anything in the past."

Glasgow teachers say inspections are "hostile and unsupportive, rather than considered and analytical". Staff have complained of inspectors carrying out national testing in primaries where they believe the pace is not being pushed and of criticising secondary teachers who are not pressing ahead with Higher Still, even although there is Scottish Office agreement on subject phasing.

Douglas Osler, head of the Inspectorate, said: "We always highlight strengths as well as weaknesses and we would be doing a disservice to pupils, teachers and parents if we did not draw attention to problems which exist. Inspection would be pointless if we did not do so."

Leader, page 16

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