Inspectors get seven-year itch

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
Schools can look forward to more frequent visits, reports Neil Munro

The Inspectorate is planning major changes in how it goes about its business, as it prepares to be hived off from the heart of Government to become an executive agency on April 2.

The newly named HM Inspectorate of Education in Scotland will carry out school inspections every six to seven years instead of every 20 years in primary and 15 years in secondary.

The plans were revealed by Graham Donaldson, depute senior chief inspector, to the secondary heads' spring conference in Polmont last week. A more frequent cycle, Mr Donaldson said, would enrich the "evidence base" which is vital to inform recommendations to improve the system and advice to ministers.

Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector, made it clear HMI would continue to be "frank and unambiguous" in reporting on strengths and weaknesses. Mr Donaldson chose to stress the importance of identifying and spreading news about strengths in schools and elsewhere, which was "a critical part of HMI's work".

He told heads: "Although we are often associated with messages you don't want to hear, the most satisfying part of an inspector's work is when he or she comes across a good school or a good department, can identify their strengths and let the staff know what these are - often for the first time."

His remarks clearly indicate that the Education Minister's decision last week to hail the glowing HMI report on the achievements of St Modan's High in Stirling will not be the last such public celebration - although Mr Donaldson cautioned against supposing that one school's good practice can be transplantedto another, to the evident relief of his audience.

HMI also plans to widen the scope of inspections by piloting questionnaires for pupils. This, Mr Donaldson said, would be in line with the requirements in the Standards in Scotland's Schools Etc Act to consult them. School staff would also be invited to make their views known.

The notice that schools receive of inspections is to be cut from eight weeks to three. Many schools will welcome this because it reduces the stress involved, according to Fiona MacDonald from HMI's Edinburgh-based eastern division. Unannounced "care and welfare" inspections, where there is cause for concern at the treatment of pupils, will continue. And new community schools would, uniquely, come under the joint scrutiny of inspectorates from education, social work, health and community education.

Other changes include a revision of the performance indicators in How Good Is Our School?, the basis of the pioneering twin-track Scottish approach of school self-evaluation backed by external inspection, to take account of new policies on target-setting and social inclusion.

Bill Clark, chief inspector in charge of quality, standards and audit, also reaffirmed bluntly that the inspection of education authorities would not be following practice in England of "trying to trip up authorities to show they are unnecessary".

The purpose in Scotland, he said, was to investigate the extent to which authorities support their schools and challenge them to do better. They must be seen to "add value", Mr Clark said.

The intention is to inspect seven authorities a year up to 2005-06.

Leader, page 20

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