Inspection has created an 'audit monster'

5th February 2010 at 00:00

It is perhaps too harrowing to imagine what went through headteacher Irene Hogg's mind in the short period before taking her own life after her school's inspection.

The process is not what it was. It used to be about engagement, discussion and spreading advice, for practice developments as well as solutions to problems. It has lost all of those elements. "How Good Is Our School?" and the six-point scale has transformed it into an audit monster.

I know many exhausted by the process. Heads go off ill after inspections, straight after feedback, and there are many who never come back. Hostile stories in local papers are common, with invective poured on schools and their staff. Those who carry on feel wrung out, taking months to get back to where they were before "the box" arrived.

It is clear something has been going wrong. But wasn't it obvious before this case? A week-long grilling while doing your job in all its complexity, accompanied by list after list of spurious "indicators", is followed by a feedback process just "done to" you, which is then placed in the public domain. Who could withstand that?

Do the inspectors have it done to them, and while they are carrying out an inspection? No, because it would be impossible. So why did they dream it up for schools? The senior levels of governance of Scottish education have not woken up to the magnitude of this.

In its statement, HMIE "welcomes" the fact that the sheriff found no fault with the inspection procedures, but those weren't looked at in the inquiry, and the sheriff made a specific point of saying so. His finding that the death was "inextricably linked" to the inspection sounds clear to me.

If that is all HMIE can come up with, maybe it is time to be rid of them. How does Finland manage without inspectors? Actually, rather well.

Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, says we must learn from this. But Ms Hogg is dead. How many others have come close, humiliated and destroyed personally and professionally? How about learning from them?

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