A year-long Tes Scotland investigation has forced the schools inspectorate, Education Scotland, to publish the date of the last inspection for every school in the country – and prompted a debate on whether school inspections really matter.
Our figures – which showed that some schools had not been inspected for 16 years and more than a fifth of all schools had not been inspected for over a decade – were picked up by the national press and resulted in first minister Nicola Sturgeon being grilled by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson last week. Davidson said that school inspections had “crashed to their lowest level since devolution” and noted that, of those not inspected for at least a decade, one was in the first minister’s constituency and two were in that of education secretary John Swinney.
School inspection 'largely confirms what we know already'
But Scotland’s largest teaching union has told Tes Scotland that opposition politicians are calling for school inspection for its own sake. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said there was no evidence that inspection improved outcomes for pupils and that he believed Scotland should follow in the footsteps of Finland, where there is no school inspection regime.
“All school inspection does is largely confirm what people know already,” added Flanagan.
Keir Bloomer, convener of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s education committee, said the public and the media tended to think that school inspection was a good thing without being very clear about why. Both Bloomer and Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, said there was little research evidence about inspections’ impact.
Bloomer said: “Do schools that have recently been inspected improve faster than others? This has never been examined in Scotland.”
Tes Scotland asked Education Scotland what evidence there was that school inspection improved outcomes for pupils. Inspections and improvement go hand in hand, said a spokesman. “These [benefits] include providing schools with a clear sense of direction, providing additional evidence to support improvement, increasing the pace of change in existing improvement work and increasing staff confidence in their professional skills.”
But when it came to hard evidence to support these claims, all the body cited was its own post-inspection survey of headteachers. This received just 41 responses but 90 per cent of those heads reported that their school had made changes as a direct result of the inspection, while 95 per cent said professional dialogue with inspectors had helped their school to make improvements.
The spokesman added: “Education Scotland monitors both international and national research evidence about the impact of inspection.” It is a member of the Standing International Conference of Inspectorates, which is this year focusing its research on “Impact of Inspection”.
This is an edited version of an article in the 29 June edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.