Stop weighing the pig and fatten it

6th April 2007 at 01:00
In the past five years, my school has been inspected (plus the follow-through inspection) by HMIE and reviewed by the local authority. The inspectors have evaluated our work as part of a national review of guidance, as part of a national review of support for probationers, and as part of an inspection of our authority's child protection practices.

The authority evaluated us for its Quality Standard Award, although we did volunteer for that. We've been researched regarding healthy respect, skills for work, animal welfare education and a host of other topics.

At one level, we should not complain. We need external checks on our work.

Even so, an envious glance is cast at schools The TESS identified as having escaped inspection for a decade and more (November 17). Where are they? Why not us?

A recent external evaluation showed why such activities are sometimes met with incredulity. The evaluators questioned a second year "focus group"

about a questionnaire which they believed had been completed. They described the questionnaire. The students (keen to please) agreed unanimously that they remembered it. The evaluators smiled - a milestone, total recall of a questionnaire on which they placed great value. That was a box to tick! Not just a statistic, but a 100 per cent statistic.

They should have realised that their description of the questionnaire would have been very similar to several others that students complete. Second, since the questionnaire was issued to secondary students over two years previously, these S2 students could not have completed it. But why let understanding of young people's minds, let alone the arithmetic of school years, get in the way of a good statistic?

HMIE and the quality development sections of local authorities comprise many wise educationists as well as a few obsessive box-tickers. Evaluating schools is not easy. As a one-time local authority official, I know. If we want to maintain a robust external evaluation system but one that is not entirely discredited in practitioners' eyes, we must spend more time fattening the pig and less time weighing it. A good start would be to prune the quality assurance bible How Good Is Our School?

Attainment as top of the list just excuses the league-table mentality since attainment is always easy to measure, though difficult to judge. Support for pupils is crucial but is a part of learning and teaching. Schools should not be held responsible for their resources - that's largely a local authority matter. Management, leadership and quality assurance are best tested by what they achieve than by a set of abstract QIs.

What we teach, how we teach and the relationships which underpin the teaching are, after all, at the heart of high-quality education. Let's reduce HGIOS to three sections: curriculum, learning and teaching and ethos. That would add meaning to the process, bring lower stress levels in schools and reduce the workload for HMIE and quality development staff.

Alex Wood is headteacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in Edinburgh

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