Inspections aim to be shorter and sweeter

19th September 2008 at 01:00
The new `proportionate' inspection regime will allow more time for professional dialogue

Schools should tell inspectors about the challenges they are facing, because they will find out about them anyway.

That was the advice from senior managers of schools who were inspected this summer under the new, more "proportionate" regime.

A panel of senior staff from West Lothian, West Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire told an HMIE conference on the new system that inspectors were definitely "more collegiate" in their approach to staff.

"A different climate and culture is being created, and there is a genuine willingness to engage in professional dialogue," said Pat Sweeney, head of the education service at West Lothian Council.

Maureen McGrath, head of the Andrew B Cameron Early Education and Childcare Centre in Dumbarton, described her recent inspection experience as "much more positive" than in the past. She had had to make a different kind of preparation for the inspectors' visit this summer - "as much, but different", she said. "You're not sending in reams of paperwork beforehand, but you have to do a presentation and provide evidence."

Rae Malcolm, former depute head of Windyknowe Primary in Bathgate, said her school's inspection had lasted four days - although staff had been informed within a day-and-a-half that inspectors had seen enough to allow them to "disengage".

"I think staff would have been upset if the inspection team had left as early as that," she said. "They might have felt they hadn't spent enough time."

The key to the new-style inspections would be the headteacher's relationship with the inspectors, according to John McKay, depute head of Dalziel High in Motherwell. "The head has to have a very positive relationship with inspectors - and that's different from the past," he said.

Brian Miller, his headteacher, had delivered a "warts and all" presentation - first to staff as a dry run, and then to inspectors. "We were looking for HMIE to vindicate what we had identified as issues," he said.

Accelerated progress

Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, told the conference that much good work on the new curriculum was already under way, but she wanted to see progress accelerating.

"I want to see directors within authorities taking greater leadership this year to shape progress at local level," she declared. "I want to see the national agencies all giving priority to A Curriculum for Excellence in their work. I want to see headteachers taking a lead in using the opportunities created by A Curriculum for Excellence to make the very best local provision which meets the needs of the learners in their schools and centres."

To headteacher leaders who have called for more time, staff and resources to implement the curriculum reforms, she said: "The resources are there to maintain teacher numbers at 53,000. There is an issue about increasing the time and opportunity for reflection, but it is quite possible within the resources available just now to do that."

Two-way process

Good self-evaluation would determine the nature of a school's inspection. That was the message from Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education. If, on arrival at a school, inspectors found evidence of good self-evaluation, their length of stay could be as short as three to five days, he said.

The new regime, revealed in The TESS (May 30), would allow more time for inspectors to engage in professional dialogue with heads and teachers. It was a two-way process, however, Mr Donaldson warned. Headteachers and teachers should not be aggressive or defensive to inspectors.

The system had not been intro-duced, he emphasised, in response to complaints about inspection-related stress for heads and teachers - a concern high-lighted in reports of the suicide of the Borders primary head Irene Hogg.

Mr Donaldson suggested that teacher stress was caused not by inspections, but by "badly-run schools where teachers feel isolated or unsupported".

He added: "Inspections are about trying to improve schools".

Mr Donaldson also sought to lay to rest the impression that the inspectorate was not "fully in tune" with A Curriculum for Excellence.

Instead of 14 quality indicators, future shorter reports, written in plain English to make them more accessible to parents, would have only five, one of which would centre on a school's engagement with the new curriculum. The evaluation term "adequate" (fourth in the six-point scale), would be replaced with "satisfactory".

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