A third of schools judged in need of improvement

15th April 2016 at 00:00
TESS uncovers inspection data showing one in 10 primaries ‘weak’ on curriculum

More than a third of Scottish schools inspected over the past two years were rated just “satisfactory” or failed to come up to scratch, new data uncovered by TESS reveals.

Over the past two years, 64 per cent of Scottish primaries and secondaries whose inspection reports were published – 105 schools – were rated “good” or better by inspectors. But of the remaining third – 60 schools – 45 were rated merely “satisfactory” and 15 did not even meet that mark.

A school is deemed to have received a positive inspection if it is rated “satisfactory” or better by Education Scotland in three key areas. However, a school receives a “satisfactory” rating when the strengths in an area of its work “just outweigh the weaknesses” and “the school needs to take action”.

The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, also reveal that well over one in 10 primaries inspected between August 2014 and the end of last month had been rated “weak” for its curriculum.

A total of 21 (15.5 per cent) of the 135 primary schools visited by inspectors had “important weaknesses” with programmes and courses that were “sufficient to diminish learners’ experiences in substantial ways”. One primary was rated “unsatisfactory” – the lowest rating – for its curriculum.

The new disclosure calls into question the commonly held assumption that the introduction of the new Curriculum for Excellence is at a more advanced stage in the primary sector than secondary: just one of the 30 secondaries inspected over the same period was rated “weak” for its curriculum and none were judged to be “unsatisfactory”.

However, the figures show that getting the curriculum right still remains a challenge at secondary, too, with roughly a third of these schools gaining just a “satisfactory” rating.

Overall, only one secondary school scored the top “excellent” rating in any of the five key performance areas, for its performance in self-evaluation.

‘Too many low ratings’

TESS had to formally request the release of the school inspection outcomes, as the inspectorate has not published an overview of its findings for nearly two years.

Liz Smith, Scottish Conservatives’ spokeswoman on young people, said that too many Scottish schools were failing to achieve “good” or better ratings. She called for inspections to be carried out more regularly to drive up standards (see box, top opposite).

Robert Hair, headteacher of Kinloss Primary in Moray and president of primary school leaders’ association the AHDS, said that a new “progression framework” being put together by Education Scotland would help support schools in the delivery of CfE.

It would help teachers and schools ensure that all aspects of the new curriculum were being covered and that the level of challenge and pace was right for pupils, he added.

Mr Hair said: “It will help make sure teachers are not missing anything and at the same time skills are not being repeated year after year. As soon as a child has mastered a skill, they should be moving on and progressing.”

He added that inspection reports were only based on “a snapshot” and were not always a true reflection of a school. “Inspections recently have been cut down to three and sometimes two days. What can you see if you have 15 classes to visit in three days? Not a great deal,” he said.

Quality indicators

Under the current inspection framework, Education Scotland judges schools against five key “quality indicators”:

improvements in performance;

learners’ experiences;

meeting learning needs;

the curriculum;

and improvement through self-evaluation.

Schools’ work can be rated unsatisfactory, weak, satisfactory, good, very good or excellent as a result (see box and graphic, right).

Education Scotland claimed that the figures released to TESS were a partial sample and “not representative nationally”.

When asked when the next national sample would be published, Education Scotland said school inspection was under review and so was “the current reporting structure”.

The body added that where HMIs identified an area as “weak” during an inspection they would work with the school and local authority to agree a plan of action.


‘We need more inspections to raise standards’

Inspection hit the headlines earlier this year when it was revealed that fewer than 6 per cent of Scotland’s primaries and secondaries were inspected last year – just 137 schools.

The Scottish Conservatives pointed out that inspection had fallen by more than 70 per cent when compared with 2004-05, when nearly 500 schools were assessed.

The party also revealed that the number of school inspectors had dropped from 80, when the SNP came to power, to 66.

Education Scotland responded by saying that it had cut down on inspection to support schools through the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence but as of next year inspection would begin to increase.

Liz Smith, the Conservatives’ spokeswoman on young people, said that too many Scottish schools were failing to achieve good, very good and excellent ratings.

She called for schools to be inspected more frequently to drive up standards, adding that if we want the curriculum in primary to improve we need to concentrate more on “the basics”. More time in teacher training should be dedicated to the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic, she said.

Ms Smith added: “The SNP are letting down parents badly. Not only do we have a decrease in school inspections but we also find that the number of inspectors is falling.

“Inspections are important because they provide parents with the necessary information to make informed decisions about where to send their children to school.”

The Conservatives would ideally like to see “an independent inspectorate, outwith the arms of the Scottish government”. Inspection should also include an assessment of the safety of school buildings, they claim. This week, 17 Edinburgh schools were forced to close because of fears over standards of construction.

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