Taking the fear out of inspection?
According to HMIe…
According to HMIe the purpose of inspections is threefold. “Inspections:
- assure the public about the quality of education provided;
- promote improvement and successful innovation; and
- contribute to the Scottish Government’s measures for improvement in public services.
The new inspection process has been developed to be more responsive to schools own ways of working and to place less administrative burden on schools during the inspection. HMIe is determined to ensure that inspections are independent, rigorous, open and fair. They reassure learners and their parents and focus on how learners’ needs and entitlements are being met.
• Inspections and reviews build on an establishment’s self-evaluation, and we ask for little information in advance.
• Inspectors and reviewers gather first-hand evidence of learning and its outcomes.
• Inspections and reviews promote equality and positive attitudes to social and cultural diversity in all establishments and services that are inspected or reviewed.
• Inspections and reviews place a strong emphasis on supporting improvement and positive innovation.
• All inspections and reviews use questionnaires and face-to-face meetings that gather the views of learners, parents and staff.
• Inspectors take time to discuss staff’s work and its context with them. They give close attention to what staff say and offer advice whenever possible.
• Inspection reports are concise and meet the requirements of parents and others to whom they are addressed.”
Being ready for inspection
Briefing the inspection team on the establishment’s view of its improvement through self-evaluation
Inspectors are looking for schools, senior management teams in particular, to show that they know themselves inside out and that they are using self-evaluation to focus on improving all the achievements of young people in line with Curriculum for Excellence. When self-evaluation evidence is robust and convincing, we use it as part of the inspection evidence and finish inspection activities early. We can then work further in partnership with staff to further encourage good practice and innovation and support improvement strategies.
At the start of the inspection you are invited to brief the inspection team on the impact of your approach to improvement through self-evaluation. You should set aside up to one hour for this meeting. It is important that you cover outcomes for all learners who attend your establishment. This meeting will be the start of an ongoing dialogue with the inspection team about your establishment’s performance and improvement. This dialogue should provide the inspection team with a clear sense of your journey – where you’ve come from, where you are now and where you are wanting to get to. Time is short and you will need to stick to the ‘high ground’. It would be helpful to the inspection team if you:
• give a clear account of your establishment’s strengths and aspects for development;
• demonstrate where the school or centre is improving and show how you know;
• identify the key sources of evidence which underpin your knowledge of school/centre performance and improvement, and make these available; and
• show how you prioritise areas for improvement.
Evaluating your establishment
You may well use How good is our school? or Child at the Centre as part of school/pre-school self-evaluation. You probably also use the six point graded scale. Because the inspection team is required to make independent evaluations using five of the quality indicators, your own evaluations against the six point scale are not used in the inspection process and are not required by the inspection team. Indeed, the inspection is not a process of ‘validation’ of grades awarded through self evaluation. However, your Standards and Quality report can be used by the team as evidence in a number of contexts, for example on reporting to stakeholders or when considering the quality of self-evaluation.
For full and complete advice on inspections from HMIe please visit their website http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/inspectionandreview/about/index.asp on the bar down the left of the page there are a number of links which connect you to a wealth of information about the inspection process and how HMIe approach inspections in different settings. If you have an inspection overdue then it is time to start working through this information.
According to HTs from recently inspected schools…
Almost all headteachers who responded to our post inspection questionnaire since September 2008 have made comments along the following lines:
- Overall positive experience (more than 75% of responses)
- HMIe team very good at: putting staff at ease, entering professional dialogue with all staff, keeping HT up to date as inspection progresses, presenting areas for improvement and making suggestions rather than criticising.
- Workload and stress levels were increased – mainly pre-inspection as schools worked hard to ensure they were showing the best of themselves.
- Around 80% of responses indicated either that there was no disagreement with HMIe or that disagreements had been dealt with through discussion with the inspection team (and in cases, provision of additional evidence).
- Most returns indicated that the inspection had added to the school’s developmental path. A slightly smaller amount noted that the inspection had confirmed the school’s direction of travel and only a small proportion felt the inspection had taken away from the school’s development path. (see fig 1)
Local authority support
A frequent complaint from school leaders is that local authorities do not know their schools well enough or do not give effective support. The responses to questions designed to help us better understand these issues presents an interesting picture. More than 75% of schools felt that their LEA had been supportive pre and post inspection. While this is clearly a positive statistic it does highlight that nearly 25% felt that that their LEA had not been supportive! Further cause for concern was the response to the question ‘Did you LEA’s assessment of your performance match the HMIe assessment?’ Allowing for small differences to be considered a match the result still paints a picture which suggests either HMIe are getting things wrong or that for too many schools the LEA does not have a good understanding of their performance (see fig 2).
The issues highlighted above are very useful to help AHDS engage with HMIe and LEAs so thank you to all those who have taken the time to complete our questionnaire. However, one question in our form was included so that you could learn from the experience of others in the hope that your inspection experience may be a positive one:
What one piece of advice would you offer to a friend who is about to be inspected?
While some people had negative experiences (e.g. “Sadly and with all honesty I have not given advice to any other HT. I feel our experience was so flawed that it cannot be the norm.”), responses to this section very much reflected the overall positive experience had by most HTs and schools. There were several themes in the advice offered:
Phone a friend
- “Phone a friend each night and talk through the days events.”
- “Have a colleague that you can call during the week for support – friendly ear.”
- “Phone and meet with a colleague who has recently been through the process.”
- “Don’t panic.”
- “Relax and know where your establishment is and where it needs to go.”
- “Try and relax, be yourselves and show what you do best.”
- “Work as you would on any normal day.”
- “Relax. We can all learn from the process. If you re doing what you should be doing then you have nothing to worry about. We can always improve & being inspected is a good thing.”
- “To stay calm as the inspectors are there to help and improve your service.”
- “Stay focussed – don’t imagine that there is a problem if you are questioned about a specific area.”
- “Be honest and clear about your strengths and weaknesses.”
- “Be honest and give a clear account, but don’t be too honest or the inspection team will follow up what you said.”
- “Be honest, know your school inside out, warts and all.”
- “Be positive, engage fully with the team and most importantly get your self evaluation meeting/discussion at the start, completely right – be open and truthful about where your school is on its journey.”
- “Be open about all circumstances, concerns and problems with staff, parents and pupils.”
- “Be open and honest, HMIe disengagement (stopping inspection early) comes from knowing yourself and acknowledging areas for improvement.”
- “Be yourself – don’t hide anything.”
- “Be positive, be truthful, prepare well.”
- “You will be fine if you know your school inside out.”
- “Have all your evidence in place now.”
- “Be prepared for every eventuality but have confidence in your own practice. Happy learners are your success.”
- “Ensure you have all the information about your school at your fingertips and be honest about where you are, how you know and what you plan to do next.”
- “Have basic paperwork up to date, especially child protection files, date all monitoring of classroom observation and feedback.”
- “To check the pre-inspection guide and have the documentation/evidence requested available for them to view.”
- “Make absolutely sure staff know what is expected of them – paperwork and teaching. Make absolutely sure you know what the staff are doing. Be there to support them.”
- “Prepare well, make sure you have good evidence of self-evaluation and knowledge and proof of the impact your subsequent actions have had on the school. Encourage and support staff to do their absolute best during inspection.”
- “Be organised, very well prepared and have plenty of evidence to support improvements through self evaluation.”
- “Evaluate impact, Evaluate impact, Evaluate impact. Keep loads of evidence of evaluation procedures in place and impact of these.”
Play the game
- “Remind teachers about pacing lessons – pupils have to keep pupils active and engage.”
- “Engage in the process. Show how well you know your school. Sell the good points and discuss how you are developing priorities. Read the HMIe documents on self evaluation as this is the crucial thing.”
- “Do not assume that the inspectors will discover all of your best features – you must sell yourself.”
- “Be familiar with 5 Qis – include them in your auditing procedures even if not due inspection. Prepare your staff well before the process begins.”
- “Read the guidelines provided on the website well in advance and begin gathering the evidence to fulfil the list of requirements.”
- “Prepare your staff so that they know any comment they make will be given a high tariff by inspectors in determining their comments on the school, even if made only by a small number of people.”
- “Although you have to show you know your staff & pupils be careful about how you word things which are not going as well as you would like – they pick on these and make them the points for improvement.”
- “Know that you can affect the outcome by priming them e.g. telling them what they might want to be seeing.”
Question and challenge
- “Challenge the judgements made by inspectors during conversations and particularly at feedback time.”
- “Ask Questions – ask for inspectors to clarify their drip feeding which happens during the week. Challenge any evaluations you think are unfair.”
- “If you don’t agree with them the opportunity for dialogue is there.”
- “Speak up for yourself, your staff and your school.”
- “If you don’t thing the inspector is taking proper account of things as the inspection progresses then speak up at the time. Also, do not be afraid to challenge at the draft stage.”
- “Don’t be afraid to stand your ground”
Short but sweet
- “Relax and enjoy”
- “Expect the unexpected”
- “This too shall pass”