When it comes to passing on information, less is not more

4th March 2011 at 00:00
There has been a shift towards secrecy in how schools are run

In the WikiLeaks age, when people expect secret public information to be available to them and whistle- blowing and internet access make information overload not just a cliche but a reality, is it not strange that Scottish education is becoming more of a closed book?

Over the past 12 years, the Scottish Parliament has presided over a shift from parental involvement and consultation towards greater managerial control and secrecy - and appears quite proud of it.

First went the ability of parents to run their own schools such as St Mary's in Dunblane. Second went the availability of comparative school exam outcomes because, er, parents might compare one school against another, much as they might compare dishwashers or pension plans. Then came the abolition of their legal right to establish a school board, replaced by a toothless school council.

Now, the schools inspectorate, soon to merge with Learning and Teaching Scotland to form the Scottish Education Quality and Improvement Agency (SEQIA), has announced that the inspection of every school at least once while a pupil attends it (every seven years for primary, six for secondary) is being dropped in favour of a more lax regime.

One saving grace is that parents will be able to call for an inspection, although, typically, it is vague about how.

With similar ambiguity, the inspectors' reports are going to be shorter - possibly only by a couple of pages - to be more accessible. Shorter to inform less, I'd say. There is no doubt that the previous HMIE format was full of diplomatic educationalese that could be indecipherable to parents. One had to be used to reading them to work out from the nuances what was a good report and what was mediocre.

As a result of this withholding of information, we can now expect parents to make FOI requests for the fuller reports that will be sent to the headteacher and parent council. Expect leaks to become the norm.

Not all teachers thought inspections were a problem. Yes, they could be improved, but teachers are parents too and suggesting they should rely on the educational grapevine or private sources is to say teachers believe they should be treated differently.

In the business of imparting knowledge, it is an unpalatable irony that administrators think we should have less knowledge about what is happening in schools.

Thankfully, easy access to information will triumph in the end, an email sent here, a memory stick left there and the resistance to informing parents will be overrun. It may take time, but inspections and inspectors' reports will once again be a force for good.

Brian Monteith is a former MSP.

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