We need to talk same language

13th November 2009 at 00:00
HMIE has been called on to persuade local authorities to adopt the same new inspection process for measuring school performance

The transition to A Curriculum for Excellence is going to be "awkward" and "bumpy" for a time, one of the leading figures in the schools inspectorate warned primary heads last week.

Frank Crawford, one of HMIE's chief inspectors, sought to appease delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland who were angry at having to continue doing 5-14 national testing while simultaneously implementing ACfE.

He said the inspectorate had never insisted on everyone doing the testing, "because it is not part of our remit". He added: "What we assume is that you have something as good as that in place, or even better."

Under the new inspection process, if heads could explain their context and what they were trying to achieve while demonstrating that pupils were making great progress, then HMIE would not give them a row. "It would give them a big hug," Mr Crawford told the conference in Cumbernauld.

But to loud applause, Frieda Fraser, head of Crosshouse Primary in South Lanarkshire, called on the inspectorate to persuade local authorities to adopt the same agenda as HMIE, rather than focusing on results, percentages and comparator schools.

Gordon Smith, former head of Jordanhill Primary in Glasgow, who led a workshop on assessment at the conference, told delegates that inspectors were looking for a "mixed menu" of assessment methods. "Everyone should now have a toolbox of different ways to assess," he said, adding that when it came to assessment, heads would ignore literacy and numeracy at their peril.

"We are talking the same language as the inspectorate on assessment and more or less the same language as the Scottish Government, but whether we are talking the same language as 32 local authorities has still to be proved," he said.

As for the Government's vision of moderation of assessment, it should "dream on in today's climate of cutbacks".

He declared: "We need management time to have the thinking space to take this forward and not be fire-fighting all the time. We need headteachers talking with local authorities about formulating their policy on assessment in schools."

Pam Nesbitt, AHDS vice-president, who led a workshop on inspection, said that education authority reviews were being "done to us, not with us".

Meanwhile, Brian Boyd, a member of the original Curriculum for Excellence review group, criticised the subsequent creation of the various levels.

"It is not helpful that levels have appeared, one of which ends at Primary 7," he said.

"The problem with levels is that they create a mindset that if you can't measure it on these levels, then it doesn't count," Professor Boyd added.

And he warned that investment in continuing professional development would either "make or break" ACfE.

"Organisations like yours, School Leaders Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland need to make a concerted effort to attract the attention of politicians and the public to the nature of budget cuts," he said.

"We can't have a world-class education system if we are not prepared to pay for it."

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