The state we're in: HMI's verdict;Standards and Quality in Scottish Schools report

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
We summarise the controversial Standards and Quality in Scottish Schools report published by the Audit Unit

SECONDARY

Curriculum

The curriculum structure in 20 per cent of schools had important weaknesses or was unsatisfactory. Progress in implementing 5-14 was still too slow in 35 per cent of schools.

Attainment

The quality of pupils' attainment in S1-S2 was very good in 5 per cent of schools, good in 55 per cent, fair in 35 per cent and unsatisfactory in only a few. "There remains considerable concern about the lack of challenge and slow pace in S1-S2 courses."

In S3-S4, quality was very good in 15 per cent of subject departments and had more strengths than weaknesses in a further 50 per cent. In S5-S6, the quality of pupils' attainment was very good in 15 per cent of departments and good in a further 55 per cent.

Quality of learning and teaching

Very good in 15 per cent of departments, good in 60 per cent and fair in a further 25 per cent. The best teaching was in S5-S6. Assessment was also best at this stage and weakest in S1-S2.

Support for pupils

Very good in almost 50 per cent of schools and good in almost 45 per cent. Strengths included committed guidance staff who knew their pupils well.

Personal and social education courses were very good or good in the majority of schools. But assessment had important weaknesses or was unsatisfactory in 65 per cent. Senior pupils should have more say in influencing the content of their courses, HMI says.

In 35 per cent of schools, guidance staff displayed important weaknesses in monitoring pupils' progress and attainment, particularly in the first two years.

The quality of learning support was very good in 25 per cent of schools and good in 60 per cent.

Ethos

Ethos, including relationships and pupils' behaviour and discipline, was very good in 40 per cent of schools and good in a further 45 per cent. "Teachers and other staff continued to foster pupils' sense of identity and pride in their school," the inspectors say. "Classroom relationships were generally positive and the morale of staff and pupils continued to be high."

But teachers had to set higher expectations of pupils' attainment. An increasing number of schools did not make enough provision for religious observance.

Attendance continued to vary between schools and across year groups. Partnership with parents was very good or good in more than 80 per cent of schools.

Some secondaries continued to make slow progress in developing curricular links with primaries. Schools in both sectors needed to share information about pupils' attainment.

Resources

Accommodation and facilities were very good in 20 per cent of schools, good in 50 per cent and fair in 25 per cent. "The most frequent concerns continued to be inadequate social areas for pupils and poor maintenance and repair, including persistent roof leaks." In 25 per cent of schools, toilets were "unhygienic".

Supply of textbooks and equipment was found to be very good or good in almost all schools, although libraries varied from school to school.

"Provision of reprographics and services remained a strength."

Staffing

Shortages of teachers were mostly in religious and moral education and learning support. Fifty-six per cent of staff were promoted. Half the schools had made little or no progress in staff review and it remained confined to senior promoted staff.

Self-evaluation

Considerable advances with virtually all schools involved in auditing quality. But approaches at whole-school level were only fair or unsatisfactory in more than 60 per cent of schools. "A large number of schools needed to make evaluation more systematic and give sufficient weight to considering the quality of learning and teaching in classrooms," the inspectors state.

School development planning

Now well established as an essential strategy in improving schools. In 10 per cent, it was very good and in 55 per cent good. Schools often failed to include key areas of learning and teaching in their plans and raising attainment. Poorly specified targets, time-scales and criteria for success were other weaknesses.

Leadership

Headteacher skills were very good or good in 85 per cent of schools. Heads generally communicated well and were highly regarded. The main weaknesses were in giving a lead in raising teachers' expectations of pupils' work and achieving high standards.

In 75 per cent of schools, senior management was very good or good. Weaknesses included poor remits and poor co-ordination of guidance and learning support.

Leadership by principal teachers was very good in 30 per cent of departments and good in 45 per cent. Guidance staff were very good in 30 per cent of schools and good in 50 per cent. In learning support departments, leaders were very good in 25 per cent and good in 55 per cent.

PRIMARY

Curriculum

More than 75 per cent of schools had time allocations in line with national advice. The main strengths in mathematics were in number, money and measurement and shape, position and movement. Problem-solving and enquiry was the biggest weakness in 65 per cent of schools. Writing was the biggest weakness in English language with 50 per cent of schools asked to improve attainment. Most schools did not ask pupils to write frequently enough.

In the majority of schools, history and geography were the best taught of environmental studies subjects. Health education was very good or good in 65 per cent of schools but drug education weak.

"Courses in science, people in society, technology and information technology were regarded as weak overall in the majority of schools," HMI says. It wants environmental studies attainment improved in 50 per cent of schools.

In expressive arts, PE courses were very good or good in most schools, art and design and music in the majority, but in drama more than half were not. In religious and moral education, the majority of courses emphasised Christianity and studies in personal search and 70 per cent of schools had important weaknesses in other world religions.

Personal and social education was a strength in most schools.

Quality of teaching and learning

The overall quality was very good in only 10 per cent of schools, good in 60 per cent and with important weaknesses in 30 per cent. It was only unsatisfactory in a few cases.

"Frequently, pupils were motivated, hardworking and responsive to their teachers," the inspectors say. Almost all primary schools had created productive working environments which often offered variety and imagination in teaching methods and good quality interaction. But at certain stages in many schools, and across the school in some, pupils were not challenged sufficiently. High achievers needed stretching.

Schools had improved the use of homework with 60 per cent setting and checking it regularly. Weaknesses included inconsistency across stages, tasks only set in English and maths and too little involvement of parents. Homework was therefore often "routine and lacking in variety and challenge".

Teachers had improved their assessment, recording and reporting to parents. But assessment was only very good or good in only 50 per cent of schools in English and 65 per cent in maths. "Beyond these areas, the use of assessment was notably poorer, in most cases showing important weaknesses or being unsatisfactory."

Virtually all schools were using national tests in reading and maths but too few were using writing tests.

Support for pupils

Pastoral care and personal and social development was very good in 70 per cent of schools and had more strengths than weaknesses in a further 25 per cent. Learning support was effective in 30 per cent of schools and good in a further 60 per cent.

The support for pupils with records of need was very good or good in almost all schools.

Ethos

Ethos, including relationships and pupils' behaviour and discipline was very good in 55 per cent of schools and good in 40 per cent. More than 95 per cent created a welcoming and friendly environment and "many teachers made good use of praise to raise pupils' self-esteem". Almost all had positive relationships with parents.

Resources

Accommodation and facilities were very good or good in more than 85 per cent of schools. But problems included unsafe pedestrian and vehicle access, limited storage and poorly maintained play areas.

Almost all schools were well resourced across the curriculum, although there were gaps in religious and moral education, science and technology. Computers needed updating.

Schools "had an appropriate number of teachers", the inspectors say, and "some education authorities continued to provide visiting specialists". Ancillary staff were highly valued.

Few teachers were yet involved in staff review but staff development was a regular feature in almost all schools.

Management and quality assurance

Self-evaluation was a strong characteristic but systematic evaluation of key areas was very good in only 10 per cent of schools, good in 45 per cent, showed some important weaknesses in 40 per cent and was unsatisfactory in 5 per cent. "Generally, senior promoted staff needed to make greater use of information gleaned from monitoring to raise attainment and ensure high quality teaching and learning."

Development planning was an established part of primaries and was very good in 15 per cent of schools and good in 40 per cent. Forty cent showed important weaknesses and 5 per cent were unsatisfactory.

Headteachers' leadership was very good in 40 per cent of schools and good in another 40 per cent. Strengths included commitment and development of teamwork and professional competence to set a clear vision. "However, headteachers generally needed to focus more on raising standards of achievement."

In 5 per cent of schools, as it was three years ago, leadership was unsatisfactory.

* The report was based on inspections of 300 primary schools and 10,000 class visits and more than 130 secondaries, supported by 13,000 class visits. Inspectors used a four-point scale of evaluation: very good (major strengths), good (more strengths than weaknesses), fair (some important weaknesses), unsatisfactory (major weaknesses).

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