LTS and HMIE to merge

15th October 2010 at 01:00
Education Secretary announces new agency to drive the curriculum and achieve savings

Learning and Teaching Scotland is to be merged with HM Inspectorate of Education from July 1 next year, The TESS can report. The new body has been given the working title of the "Scottish Quality and Inspection Agency".

This dramatic shift in the educational landscape was announced yesterday by Education Secretary Michael Russell in a speech to the SNP's annual conference in Perth.

It could be the forerunner to similar amalgamations as the Scottish Government struggles to tailor its cloth to economic circumstances.

Mr Russell insists his move is "curriculum driven" and believes it will give added impetus to Curriculum for Excellence. But critics will argue it is a cost-cutting exercise that could undermine the rigour of inspection.

Mr Russell makes little secret of the fact that he expects the combined organisations to make economies as their response to "hard times"; LTS accounts for almost pound;20 million of public money and HMIE more than pound;15 million.

But he is adamant that the statutory obligation for inspection will remain, while the new agency will reinforce moves begun under Graham Donaldson, and continued by Bill Maxwell as his successor in charge of the inspectorate, to make the scrutiny of schools more collaborative, using each school's evaluation of itself as the starting point.

Last month, HMIE began to consult on how it goes about its business. It aims to reduce the burden on schools by concentrating on those it believes most require to be inspected - in line with the Crerar Review's call for more "proportionate" scrutiny of public organisations.

Mr Russell told The TESS: "I see this as the next step in building Curriculum for Excellence and supporting Scottish education in the most modern and relevant way.

"I believe the vast majority of people will welcome it as a positive and productive step, which will guarantee the independence of the inspectorate in a way that ensures support and quality control are part of the whole process."

Bernard McLeary, chief executive of LTS, and Bill Maxwell, senior chief inspector of education, gave their support to the proposals.

Dr Maxwell has skilfully positioned himself to anticipate political imperatives, as did Mr Donaldson before him. His agreement to suspend the inspection programme for secondaries this term to support schools struggling to introduce the new curriculum has endeared him to ministers, but left others wondering why this task was not given to LTS as the official curriculum support body.

Since Mr Russell aims to have the new agency up and running by next July, his plans will require the support of other political parties if they are to survive any change of government after next May's Holyrood elections.

The merger of LTS and HMIE brings to an end, for now, speculation that Scotland might get a single curriculum and assessment body by combining LTS with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

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