HMI's new look

4th May 2001 at 01:00
A change of title and a change of address - these are the signs of a new inspectorate most obvious to teachers. But what is the executive agency supposed to do that is different from previous practice? We are a little clearer after HMI's conference last week.

The Education Minister wants inspectors to review initiatives that are in place to see if they are working and worth the money. That is a change from the inspectorate coming up with ideas which the minister introduces and which are then built into its list of demands. Jack McConnell also wants the emphasis to shift to one under which a school is judged by its outcomes (especially the targets it itself has set) with less concern as to how it got there. There should be more scope for local variation, even optimistically for off-the-wall teaching that engages pupils. Mr McConnell suggested that HMI's rputation for divisive strategies setting school against school was unfair but he acknowledged that the perception is important and should prompt change.

There is an assumption that the executive agency will refocus on the inspection process and the gathering of school-based evidence, leaving policy-making to ministers. But that is too simplistic. Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector, pointed to examples where ministers had recently picked up on HMI advice. Evidence has to feed into policy-making which, HMI emphasises, has always been the minister's prerogative. The study of power relationships is a matter of identifying who is calling the tune as the process unfolds.

Only time will show if the at-a-greater-distance agency makes a difference, giving more breathing space for teachers and breathing less closely down the minister's neck.

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