Inspection reports at odds

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Borders school provokes disagreement among the experts, following the death of its headteacher
Borders school provokes disagreement among the experts, following the death of its headteacher

The borders primary led by Irene Hogg until she died in March has been given sharply different verdicts on its performance by HMIE and local education officers.

The long-awaited official inspectorate report on Glendinning Terrace Primary in Galashiels was published on Tuesday. All references to the leadership of the school, which included the head and principal teacher, were excised "out of respect for Irene".

It is understood HMIE took that unique decision since 54-year-old Miss Hogg, who is believed to have taken her own life after succumbing to professional and personal pressures, was not able to exercise the customary right of reply to the initial draft report. It is not known whether they would have done the same thing if their report had been more positive.

Although Scottish Borders Council and the school's parent council took a deliberately upbeat line on the report, HMIE rated only three quality indicators as "good", eight as "adequate" and one as "weak". But a pre-inspection report by council officials, which normally remains unpublished but was released following a Freedom of Information request, gave the school one "very good" rating, eight "good" and only three "adequate".

In five areas, there were remarkably different conclusions. According to HMIE, the curriculum, engagement of staff in the life and work of the school, equality and fairness and the use of resources were "adequate"; the council found they were all "good". In the case of the care and welfare of pupils, inspectors said it was "adequate", while the local report pronounced it "very good".

The inspectors found major shortcomings in almost every area. Their report said "curriculum programmes were not sufficiently challenging", "the quality of teaching was too variable," "teachers' expectations of pupils' attainment were not always sufficiently high", "tasks often lacked pace and challenge", "arrangements for identifying pupils requiring support lacked rigour" and "there were instances where staff needed to display a firmer commitment to meeting the needs of vulnerable pupils".

The major areas where the school received unqualified praise were its "very positive steps to develop pupils' wider achievements" and its good links with parents. There had also been improvements in English language and maths.

Despite the strictures, the inspectors found that parents and pupils held the school in high esteem and Miss Hogg "was held in high regard by staff, children and parents".

Although the HMIE report makes no mention of her leadership, it is clear from the council's assessment that Miss Hogg was facing problems. She was said to be "deeply committed" to the school, where she had been head for 19 years, and to have had a "profound vision" of what it could achieve. But she had to manage "significant challenges within the staff team" which hindered "the full implementation of her vision".

The council report said the majority of staff had worked at the 105-pupil school for a number of years "and have developed a sense of loyalty and teamwork". It hints at the time-consuming strains that dealing with this imposed, noting that "challenging situations with the staff are dealt with in a thoughtful and considered way by the head".

In his response to the HMIE report, Glenn Rodger, Scottish Borders Council's director of education, praised Miss Hogg as a "dedicated and caring headteacher". She had left behind a "genuine enthusiasm for learning", and he hoped the school could now move on and build on that legacy.

One of the last communications the council had from Miss Hogg came in an email, unearthed under Freedom of Information, just after her presentation to the inspectors. She described the experience as "some good some bad!" Her final words were: "We will keep smiling." A week later, she was found dead.

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