THE latest annual report by the inspectorate acknowledges "significant staffing difficulties" in the course of the year, as the number of inspections continues to rise.
But Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, says that, despite the problems, virtually all key targets have been exceeded.
The inspectorate was committed to inspect 185 primaries during 2002-03 and actually looked at 191; it inspected 46 secondaries against 43 planned visits, five care and welfare inspections of residential schools, not three; and 13 reviews of FE colleges and departments, not 12. Seven education authorities were inspected as planned.
The only slippage appeared in special schools where 24 inspections were planned and 21 undertaken. This was because resources were diverted to the more pressing need to inspect the care and welfare of pupils in residential settings.
HMI remains committed to ensuring all primaries are inspected by 2009 and all secondaries by 2008 - the so-called "generational cycle" of inspections which will ensure that all primaries are inspected every seven years and all secondaries every six years.
The new "proportionate" approach to inspections, which will focus more strongly on what needs to be improved, will be introduced into primary and special schools from August, with secondaries following from January.
This move, which follows a pledge by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, to provide more support for schools which are struggling, will involve HMI in working directly with schools and education authorities following an inspection.
Inspections will in future take the form of a standard "core inspection" for all schools with follow-through activities depending on the improvements required.
Major tasks in the coming year will involve scrutinising the implementation of the discipline task group's report, reviewing the progress of the teachers' agreement and looking at how well schools are promoting race quality. The way schools use flexibility in the curriculum, a key ministerial initiative, will also come in for attention.
Among other departures planned for the coming year will be developing new quality indicators for enterprise education, following the Executive's Determined to Succeed report. These should be ready by 2005.
The Improving . . . series, which kicked off with the report on English language earlier this year, will feature improving education authorities and improving success in P7-S2.