THE first education authority to be inspected under the powers in the education Bill should get a Christmas present in December in the form of an HMI report - assuming the legislation passes on to the statute book.
Bill Clark, who heads the audit unit and will be in charge, said last week that the inspections would kick off in August or September after the Bill passes into law. The intention is to scrutinise the value authorities add in the drive by schools to institute "continuous improvement", the concept at the heart of the Bill.
Five authorities are likely to be inspected by next Easter, with around seven a year thereafter. Ministers' intention is that all 32 authorities should be inspected at least once within five years.
Addressing advisers at their annual conference (page four), Mr Clark, who has been involved in following up inspections of education authorities in England, said that he did not expect the same degree of intervention by central government in rectifying underperformance.
Sixty authorities have been inspected south of the border so far and 11 have been forced to make major changes, with some handing over quality assurance and advisory services to the private sector.
Mr Clark added that, while Scottish authorities might not necessarily have the same experience, HMI does expect inspectors to encounter "differential performance". He warned: "We will be rigorous. We won't be going in for a cosy chat."
The starting point will be to askan authority to evaluate its own effectiveness and to provide evidence. Interviews will be held with chief executives, education conveners and directors of education before visits are made to a sample of schools. The final report will go to the chief executive rather than the director.
Mr Clark said inspection teams would look at exam results and at how resources are managed and used. "Any evidence of underresourcing will be pointed out to chief executives and education conveners," he said. The way in which an authority works with its schools to implement national policies will also come under HMI's microscope, with an analysis of the effectiveness of access to staff development to support "continuous improvement".
Mr Clark promised to try to avoid the dangers of "over-auditing". The Inspectorate is currently working with the Accounts Commission, which is responsible for ensuring value for money in local government, to dovetail their differing requirements.
The commission will have one representative on the inspection teams which will also include three from HMI and an "associate assessor" from an outside authority who will normally be a senior member of the directorate or from the chief executive's office.
The Inspectorate will treat its new remit flexibly, Mr Clark said. Authorities where the "education function" includes children's services from a traditional social work background or libraries or leisure will be inspected as such.