‘Astonishing’ data dump branded as ‘disgraceful’

29th September 2017 at 00:00
Politicians rap inspectorate for ‘wilful’ lack of transparency after cull of old reports

The schools inspectorate has been accused of “a wilful attempt to frustrate transparency”, after a Tes Scotland investigation uncovered that it had deleted information on historical school inspections.

In 2008, Education Scotland changed the way in which schools were selected for inspection and it has emerged that information predating this change is no longer available. It has also emerged that the organisation has begun deleting all school inspection reports that are more than five years old from the publicly accessible section of its website, in an attempt to remove information considered outdated.

The moves have come to light after Tes Scotland sought to uncover which Scottish schools had gone without inspection for a decade or longer. In response, Education Scotland said it did not hold the information.

The inspectorate stated: “In April 2008, Education Scotland changed the school sampling methodology [how schools were selected for inspection], and inspection information prior to this change has been deleted.”

‘Simply astonishing’

The news – which has prompted the body’s new interim chief inspector to say he would review Education Scotland’s processes for retaining inspection information – has been heavily criticised by education experts and politicians alike.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said the decision was “simply astonishing, irresponsible behaviour by the key public body responsible for Scotland’s school system”.

Mr Gray continued: “Education Scotland has been under fire before for acting in the interests of Scottish ministers rather than Scottish schools and pupils, but to destroy records so that we cannot judge progress or otherwise in schools is breathtaking.

“Not only does it show contempt for the historical context of developments in Scottish schools, it looks like nothing less than a wilful attempt to frustrate transparency and Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.”

He described the government’s record on FOI as a “disgrace”, adding “now Education Scotland appears complicit, too”.

Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith echoed this view, saying the situation was “utterly disgraceful”.

“Yet again, it calls into question the decision of the Scottish government to allow Education Scotland to carry out inspections at the same time as undertaking curriculum development,” she added.

‘Marking its own homework’

Ever since the merger of HM Inspectorate of Education with curriculum development organisation Learning and Teaching Scotland in 2011, calls have been made for the decision to be reversed amid concern that Education Scotland was effectively “marking its own homework”.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, meanwhile, said historical record-keeping was a crucial responsibility of being a regulator.

He said: “Imagine if by way of analogy that the public accounts committee did not know which government departments had submitted their accounts every year. It’s part of the business of regulating; it is in the public interest that there should be a record of what has been done – that principle was established 200 years ago. Frankly, it’s irresponsible that they do not hold this information.”

‘Out of date’ reports ditched

Education Scotland said the organisation had moved away from undertaking inspections on a cyclical basis – inspecting primary schools at least once every seven years and secondary schools at least once every six years – in 2008 to instead look at a sample of Scottish schools every year; after this point, inspection records prior to that year were deleted.

Figures obtained by Tes Scotland suggest at least 540 primaries – 26 per cent of all primaries in Scotland – have not been inspected since the new approach to inspection was introduced. Education Scotland has no way of easily uncovering how long these schools have gone without an inspector calling, although it says schools that have not been inspected since 2008 or before are given priority.

The majority of secondary schools have been through an inspection since 2008. However, at least 18 high schools – or 5 per cent of secondaries – have not been inspected since the approach was revamped.

New interim chief inspector Graeme Logan told Tes Scotland that school inspection reports before that year would be “well out of date”, adding that the national reports produced by Education Scotland on the overall state of Scottish education meant progress at a system level could be judged.

However, he said that he had asked for a new “retention policy” to be drafted to make it clear to the public and to schools how long reports would be kept online, and for how long they would be retained centrally.

A Scottish government spokesperson said agencies and public bodies were expected to have robust data-management procedures in place, and added: “The interim chief inspector of education has made clear his intention to review and strengthen Education Scotland’s processes.”

@Emma_Seith

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