HMI's right to enter a school

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
The announcement last week that HMI will turn up unannounced in schools where there have been complaints about the treatment of children will be widely welcome. Allegations must be investigated quickly: a common feature of cases that become notorious is that delays compounded the problem.

Usually HMI visits are signalled months in advance . The strain is more in the bureaucratic need to prepare masses of paper than in the event itself. Heads and their staff may not welcome the prospect of unheralded inspections, but speedy investigation, hopefully without publicity, is preferable to the sudden suspension of a teacher or care worker which at present signals official recognition of a complaint, with all the painful suspicion about smoke and fire that inevitably accompanies a sending home on full pay. HMI is in a good position to spot the empty accusation as well as to accumulate evidence where it really exists.

Education authorities have never been more watchful of HMI's ambitions. The balance of power between central and local government is bound to shift with the creation of the parliament, and Labour's repeated inability to discipline its councils plays into the hands of the centralists, not least those prospective MSPs who have overcome the selection hurdle. But directors of education suspicious of HMI intentions should none the less be content that outsiders are ready to help in the most challenging of management decisions, how to equate responsibility for children's welfare with the rights of employees.

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