Inspection – working together to support improvement

1Blog from Alastair Delaney, Director of Inspections.

It has now been a few months since we told you all about our plans to continue to develop new inspection approaches. We introduced the ‘full establishment model’ of inspection in schools in September 2016 and I’m pleased with how well this is progressing.

We’ve had positive feedback, with schools being inspected saying that they enjoyed using How Good is Our School? (4th edition) and valued discussion with inspectors around these new Quality Indicators, as well as highlighting the professional dialogue with inspectors as helping the school focus thinking and giving them a sharper focus on how to move forward.

Some of the positive feedback relates to a new aspect of the approach that we introduced which is asking the school to identify a Quality Indicator (QI) for additional focus. It clearly demonstrates our commitment to working in partnership with school staff during the process.

We’re well aware that inspection can be viewed as quite a stressful experience as school staff worry about making sure that inspectors get to see all the work they have been doing. Some feel that their work is going to be judged and they “don’t want to be the one to let the school down”. We want to get away from that perception. Inspections are about working together to support improvement through professional dialogue between staff and inspectors. The experience should be helpful, understanding and professional leaving you in a better place to take the school or other establishment forward. That is what we are striving to achieve.

Shorter visit inspection model
I am pleased that the full establishment model has being well received and now look forward to the introduction of the new shorter visit inspection model which started at the end of January 2017. This approach will be piloted in a small number of primary school inspections through to Easter 2017. We will pilot the short visit model in secondary schools after the summer break, modify as necessary and fully implement it across the academic session.

However, the general approach is that this inspection model will be undertaken over fewer days than the current full establishment model and the numbers of inspectors in these teams will be smaller. This will allow inspectors to visit more schools across a year. There will be fewer but more focused areas being looked at during these inspections.

Amongst the feedback we received during the ‘try-outs’ of the short visit model over the 2015/16 academic session was that the increased focus meant that schools felt they were clear about what inspectors needed to see and hear, and they felt there was less documentation and evidence to make available for the team’s arrival.

Greater use of digital technology
We are also continuing to prepare for the introduction of short-notice inspections some time in the future – not to be confused with the short visit model. The idea being that schools will have a reduced notification period before inspectors arrive.

Feedback received during the engagement phase of the review of inspection was mixed with approximately half of teachers saying that they welcomed the shorter notification period as it reduced anxiety preparing for the visit. Almost all of the rest felt that the current notice period was about right with feedback generally saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

There’s still work for us to do before we introduce this model as we need to make greater use of digital technology to support this approach. For example, the paper questionnaires which we have been using until recently need to be issued in advance and can take some time to process so we are currently piloting an online version of this survey to gather views of children and young people, parents, teaching and non-teaching staff and other stakeholders.

The pilot began in January 2017 and the learning from this pilot phase will inform how we implement online surveys for all inspections. The External Reference Group for the inspection review will, of course, discuss what we find out before we finalise and I look forward to telling you all about its feedback and the next steps in the development and implementation of new models.

I am looking to engage with many practitioners over the next few months to hear directly your experiences and thoughts on the new approaches to inspection. The first opportunity will be a Glow meet on 23 February for you to join me and other inspectors for an informal discussion and Q&A session. More details on this coming soon.

In addition, over the coming weeks we will be using a lot of the feedback we’ve been receiving to shed light on many of the misconceptions and myths that have built up around inspections. You can follow these on Twitter and Facebook by searching for us @EducationScot and you can follow our hashtag #InspectionMythBusters.

Alastair Delaney – Director of Inspections

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