The number of school inspections being carried out in Scotland has plummeted, the Scottish Conservatives revealed last month, dropping by some 70 per cent in a decade.
As a result Education Scotland intends to inspect just 6 per cent of schools over this academic year. Figures published this month by the party also show a sharp fall in the number of inspectors.
But is it a cause for concern? Here, TESS explores the issue.
What did the Scottish Conservatives reveal about inspection in Scotland?
They shone a light on how few are going on. The number of inspections dropped from 491 in 2004-05 to 148 in 2015-16. The party’s figures show that the number of inspectors employed by Education Scotland has dropped from 80 to 66 since the SNP came to power in 2007.
What conclusion did they come to?
This number of inspections was “nothing like good enough”, said Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives. At the current rate, it would take almost two decades for inspectors to get round to all of Scotland’s schools, she pointed out, despite the government saying that schools should be checked every six to seven years. As a result, parents would not be getting the data that they needed, Ms Davidson concluded.
Is she right?
Parents are concerned when schools are not inspected for long periods. And even when schools are inspected, families feel that they are not getting the information they need. Campaign groups have complained that the letters to parents published after an inspection are so bland that they are next to meaningless.
Why have the numbers fallen so sharply?
In response to the figures, Education Scotland said that it had taken the decision to divert some of its resources away from inspection and towards supporting the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. For four months in 2010, for example, inspection of secondaries was put on hold completely so that the body could support schools that were struggling to bring in the new curriculum. Now that CfE is entering a different phase, the number of inspections would rise, the body said, adding that it was currently in the process of appointing a number of new HM inspectors.
So CfE is the reason for the drop?
Not entirely. There have also been big changes to the way in which Scotland conducts school inspections in recent years – with more in the pipeline. Many were concerned about the pressures on individuals after the headteacher of a Borders primary committed suicide in 2008 following an inspection at her school. The emphasis since has been on establishing a more proportionate, lighter-touch regime.
So how does inspection work now?
In 2011, Education Scotland announced that it was going to reduce the number of schools inspected in any given year by about a third. The idea was to inspect “where it really mattered”. Each year, the body now inspects a wide enough range of schools to allow it to draw conclusions about the overall quality of education in Scotland.
Over and above the national sample, it visits schools where there is clear evidence that an inspection is needed. However, the intention is that approximately 240 schools will be inspected per year. The 148 schools that Education Scotland intends to visit this year is well short of that target.
Does it matter?
One of the three core principals of school inspection is to “provide assurance to users on the quality of education”. You could argue that this is not being met. However, as Eileen Prior, chief executive of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council points out, parents might crave inspection less if schools were better at communicating and sharing pertinent information all year round.
What does the future hold?
There is more change ahead for school inspection. This academic year, some new approaches, such as unannounced inspections, are being trialled in a small number of schools. Inspection was under review again to ensure that it reflected “education today and the changes that have taken place over the last few years”, Education Scotland said. These include the introduction of CfE and the Scottish Attainment Challenge, along with wider factors such as the increasing use of technology in schools.