AHDS activity in relation to the restarting of inspection activity since the HMIe announcement that inspections would restart
BREAKING NEWS – As we go to ‘print’ HMIe has announced that inspections will NOT restart in January 2022 as planned: See press release https://education.gov.scot/education-scotland/news-and-events/news/updated-plans-for-school-inspections/
Just before the October break HMIe announced that it would restart inspection activity. This would begin with those schools who were due a follow-up visit when inspection activity was suspended due to the onset of the pandemic and continue with the return of full inspections at the start of 2022.
AHDS surveyed members about this decision and received overwhelming feedback making clear member opposition to the plans – not on the basis that members felt there was no place for inspection (though some very much hold that view, at least in its current guise) but on the basis that now was not the time. Indeed, members were clear that the levels of new covid cases amongst pupils and staff absence levels were such that schools were facing the most difficult period of the pandemic to date. This feedback was shared at CERG and with HMIe and was then the subject of discussion with the HMIe senior team. They stressed that they were listening to the messages from members about this but would not cancel or delay their plans to restart follow up inspection activity prior to Christmas or full inspections thereafter. The HMIe team offered to run sessions for AHDS members to seek to offer reassurance about their plans. These sessions were duly organised but the feedback was that while members had valued the sessions, generally, they did not feel reassured or listened to.
HMIe agreed to share the list of 96 schools which would see engagement with HMIe before Christmas so that AHDS could invite the HTs of those schools to share information about their experiences. We stripped out the secondary schools, central services and private nurseries and then sent our survey to the remaining school leaders. In the meantime we have continued to argue that now is not the time to recommence inspection activity.
What has the feedback been so far?
At the time of writing, 44 HTs had responded. The experience wasn’t as bad as anticipated. Indeed, when asked to reflect on their experience of the ‘restarting of inspection activity’, the response was weighed very much towards the positive end of the spectrum.
78% of responses indicated that the experience was in line with what had been promised by Gayle Gorman and her team in the face-to-face sessions with AHDS members. So that everyone was responding to the same set of expectations, we set that out in the question as being that the experience would:
- not be a further inspection.
- be a dialogue about the school’s Covid experience.
- be a dialogue about plans and activity in relation to priorities identified in the earlier inspection – noting that some of these priorities might have been addressed, others may not have been touched or may have changed.
- only ask for the Standards and Quality Report and School Improvement Plan.
- "Listen to you, learn from you, hear your story."
All of this is reassuring. Indeed, while there were still members reporting negative experiences these were very much in the minority and the positivity of responses appeared to improve over the time that the survey has been open which may point towards HMIe becoming better at this type of engagement.
A quote from one survey response was effusive about the nature of this engagement in comparison with past experiences:
“As a HT of almost 20yrs standing, I have been through a number of Inspections led by HMI. Over many years they have talked about working alongside schools and supporting them, but no matter what they say, they invariably come in and begin the inspection from a negative perspective stating that they are in school to see what schools are doing and to tell them what they could be doing better-the inference right at the outset being that you are not doing a good enough job. This engagement was completely different - they spoke to staff, they listened to all in our school community, they praised staff and pupils for work which had been done and they encouraged us to stop, reflect, enjoy and celebrate our successes. I have NEVER had engagement like it with the Inspectorate. Yes - I realise they have a job of work to do in terms of scrutiny but how I would love to see the Inspectorate coming to schools displaying more of this attitude It was so welcomed and through the dialogue we had we felt listened to and more willing to ask for advice which she was more than ready to give. I would love to see more of this way of working.”
The one element which remained a negative indicator, an issue we were greatly concerned about before this activity started and remain so, was the workload the inspection activity resulted in. While the inspectors were not asking for lots of additional material – 90% of responses reported that they only asked for the school improvement plan and standards and quality report – members undertook a lot of additional work in preparation. This is of concern as it is inevitable that members will do this as they want to be as prepared as possible and to ensure that they present their school and the work their team is doing in the best light that they can. The question for HMIe is whether, knowing that school leaders will respond in this way, it is reasonable in these times of high staff absence to restart full inspections. We will continue to argue that this must wait at least until staffing and case counts are at a more sustainable level.