Second honeymoon for HMI;Jotter

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
READERS WITH short memories will not remember that inspection of education authorities - as promised in the Education Bill - is not new. HMI reported in the early 1970s on all 32 authorities as they disappeared in the morass of regionalisation.

This was an exotic age. Authorities with splendid names such as Kirkcudbright, Banffshire and Selkirkshire are no more.

It was also the age of innocence before targets, tables and tough tenderness. Even in those preOsler days, however, the Inspectorate did not spare any council blushes, but there was a sedate, almost, affectionate tone.

For a start, directors of education were awesome. James Michie presided in Aberdeenshire - "one of the most vigorously led" authorities. "He inspired those around him to loyal service," HMI stated.

Angus enjoyed an "enlightened and positive" directorate. Another towering old boy, Tom Henderson, gets a glowing accolade for his 25 years in charge. Andrew Cameron in Dunbarton led with "great skill and immense humanity". Glasgow's directors of education displayed the two essential prerequisites for that post - "humanity and stamina".

Far removed from today's sophisticated judgments about "fair" or "unsatisfactory" provision, the HMI of yesteryear put a positive spin on things. Argyll was given the benefit of the doubt as it struggled to cover its far-flung mainland and island territory. "It is not surprising that the authority have been unable to solve all the problems which have confronted them," the cuddly inspectors observed.

They patted Dundee staff who "deserve credit for what has been achieved, often in trying circumstances". Even the jannies and cleaners in Peebleshire earned praise for keeping the buildings shipshape.

But some were given a genteel rap. Banffshire was a bit "slow". Dumfriesshire teachers suffered from "comparative isolation". Lanarkshire was often governed by "expediency rather than policy". Moray and Nairn schools suffered from too much "formalism".

A number inspired HMI to descriptive heights. "In 1854, it was possible to see upwards of 300 boats in Lochranza harbour," it noted while professing satisfaction with education in Bute (which included Arran and Cumbrae).

Dundee "occupies a fine situation" on the Tay. The Orkney archipelago "encloses the magnificent anchorage of Scapa Flow". Then there were Perthshire's "rugged mountain massifs". It's called context.

Despite the changes in school inspections over the years, however, one HMI mantra remains: "Much remains to be done."

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