Last year, AHDS strongly opposed the return of HMIe inspection activity. We argued that it was not yet the time for inspectors to return to schools and that doing so was a tone-deaf action on the part of HMIe. Eventually, we partly won that argument.
From October to December 2021 HMIe visits went ahead with schools that had been waiting for a follow-through inspection. Members were very concerned about these visits and as an association we were clear with HMIe and politicians that this was inappropriate and that it failed to properly understand the lot of schools and school leaders at that time.
We surveyed members who were involved in those visits and it transpires that while members in general were concerned about these visits and how their peers would cope in the prevailing circumstances, those who were visited by HMIE were broadly (though not uniformly) positive about the experience.
However, we continued to argue against the return of full inspections due to the increased pressure that would be associated with those visits. Eventually, HMIe agreed to postpone plans to restart full inspections at the start of 2022. They have now made more clear what they intend to do when they come to schools in 2022 (starting from the beginning of March) and, thankfully, it is much more akin to the approach taken prior to Christmas – one which seeks to hear from schools about how they respond to the impacts of covid on their pupils, staff team and communities. In a letter to Directors of Education dated 10 February, Gayle Gorman (HM Chief Inspector of Education and Chief Executive of Education Scotland) stated that:
“HMIE will invite settings and schools to talk about their own current priorities as they respond to the impact of the current pandemic. HMIE will listen to how practitioners are addressing the impact of Covid-19 with a particular focus on continuity of learning and wellbeing of staff and learners. HMIE are keen to learn what is working well along with the challenges faced and the solutions found. The visits will help us gather evidence of the range and quality of children’s and young people’s learning experiences. We also want to identify and share examples of effective practice. HMIE will explore with staff approaches to safeguarding and child protection.
To reduce any additional workload surrounding the visits settings/schools will not be asked to provide any additional information in advance. They will be asked to share their improvement plan or recovery plan as part of the discussions during the visit. HMIE will not report in specific quality indicators or assign summative grades as part of the visits. Following the visit, HMIE will provide the setting/school with a note of the visit. The note of visit is aimed to support the setting school and will not be published.
The visits will be of a hybrid nature with both online meetings and face to face engagements in the setting. Visits are likely to be arranged over two days within a given week.”
For a long time our position has been that moment-in-time summative inspections of schools offer neither the system reassurance that they are touted as giving, nor do they act as an effective lever for change and improvement. The approach planned by HMIE for the coming period appears to recognise that a supportive and formative approach – without a published inspection report – is more appropriate at this time. We will continue to argue that that these should be key elements in a longer-term approach to system scrutiny and improvement as well as arguing that the key focus should be on local authority capacity to know and support improvement in its schools rather than individual school inspections.