Category Archives: Inspection

Using evidence to improve outcomes in secondary

By Carol McDonald, HM Inspector and Lead Officer for secondary inspection

Time to reflect on inspection evidence is always an interesting and key part of our work. Reviewing our findings for the recent report ‘Quality and improvement in Scottish education 2012 – 2016’ (QuISE) highlighted some important strengths in the secondary sector over a period with significant changes to the curriculum.

Inspectors appreciate the opportunity inspection offers to engage in dialogue with staff, parents, partners of the school and the young people themselves.   We learn a great deal from our discussions which informs many aspects of our work.

You can read the secondary chapter from QuISE on our website.  In secondary schools, inspectors found the curriculum in most schools evolving as new qualifications replaced old ones. Much of the work in schools focused on implementing new qualifications and increasing the range of accreditation available to young people in the senior phase.

Staff in schools recognised that to continue to improve attainment, improvements to learning pathways from S1 to S3 are required. Young people are well supported by the good relationships they enjoy with their teachers. However, too much variability was observed in the quality of learning and teaching.  Schools need to continue to work to ensure staff share a good understanding of the best features of effective practice.

Our evidence shows that schools need to use the wide range of evidence available to ensure that school improvement planning is manageable and achievable. The evidence from Insight, and from teacher’s professional judgements on the progress of young people, needs better used to inform improvement planning.

Schools are working effectively with partners to develop the young workforce using a range of innovative approaches. Senior staff in schools are using the Career Education Standard 3-18 (CES), the Work Placement Standard (WPS) and Guidance on School/Employer Partnerships as a platform to promote and develop DYW in their schools.  The use of the standards and the guidance to align and co-ordinate activity is still at an early stage.  Teaching staff, young people and employers are not yet aware of the entitlements and the expectations within the standards and guidance.

Our inspections in the current academic year show improvements in arrangements for assessing and tracking the progress of young people across all aspects of their learning. Using this evidence to implement appropriate interventions for individuals is key to improving outcomes for young people.  Collating the evidence at a department, faculty and whole school level allows staff to analyse and act upon necessary improvements.   Central to this work is the reliability of the assessment evidence.  We are seeing teachers beginning to make good use of the benchmarks to support them in this essential work.

In the best examples, schools are identifying, and taking account of, a range of features which may influence outcomes for young people. This includes factors such as being “looked after” (LAC), living in areas of social deprivation (SIMD 1 and 2) and having identified additional support requirements.  These factors need taken into account when planning learning for young people.

As staff continue to work hard in the interests of their pupils, they recognise that they are part of a wider team of adults that provide the necessary support to help young people succeed. It is good to see, and hear about, the successes of schools in improving outcomes for the young people in their community.

As we look ahead to next year’s inspections, I look forward to seeing these areas develop further, helping improve attainment for our young people.

Ruthvenfield Primary School Inspection Experience

As part of Education Scotland’s on-going Inspection Mythbuster’s campaign, which has been developed to help beat the common misconceptions of inspection which have built up over the years, we have invited the Headteacher at Ruthvenfield Primary School, Andrew Clark, to blog about his inspection experience.

“After the initial ‘excitement’ of receiving pre inspection notification had passed, my preparation for inspection followed four main areas:

  1. Engaging with staff: I met with all staff in the school to plan out our inspection week, listen to concerns and ensure that everyone would be prepared to deliver their best throughout the process. We scheduled meetings and arranged time to get together. The management team worked on the Self Evaluation, reviewing this with teaching staff before sharing with all staff for agreement.
  2. Engaging with pupils: This was about ensuring our learners would be ready to share their school and really show all their best qualities throughout the week. That was easy!
  3. Inspection week timetable: This phase was about managing the timetable across the week, ensuring parents had opportunity to meet with inspectors and that nothing was left out. We wanted to make sure everyone in our school had the chance to speak and share their involvement in our school.
  4. Paperwork: I spent time preparing paperwork for the inspection process and cross checking sources of evidence to make sure that no stone was left unturned.

I also found that the self-evaluation for inspections is an ideal starting point for discussions about your school’s context. Throughout our inspection I referred back to our self-evaluation to make sure that the stories that go along with the statements were easy to find and that examples were a true depiction that could be ‘lived’.

Meetings were held throughout the week and we used these to work together to develop the school’s picture. Quick ‘catch-up’ meetings in the morning were always welcome and allowed me to add detail to any points from the previous day’s meetings.

Our inspection team made themselves available in a non-threatening, supportive way throughout the visit. Inspectors spent time throughout the week interacting with staff about learning and particular learners. We also found the Professional Dialogue session on the Tuesday afternoon was an opportunity to ask some deeper questions about our practice.

Overall, our Inspection validated the very good practice across our school and provided insight into themes of development. As a result, our direction after inspection is even clearer and more focussed, and we are a stronger school community with a refined vision for how we move from Good to Very Good and from Very Good to Excellent.”

Andrew Clark, Headteacher at Ruthvenfield Primary School, Perth

For more information about the Inspection Mythbuster’s campaign please visit the Education Scotland website.

Improving assessment measures in primary schools

By Sadie Cushley, HM Inspector and Lead Officer for primary inspection

It’s been an interesting and rewarding process to review our primary inspection findings for the recent report ‘Quality and improvement in Scottish education 2012-2016’ (QuISE). In addition to that four year view, this year we have continued to observe improving practice, and this blog is a good opportunity to share some of that with you.

You can read the primary chapter from QuISE on our website. In primary schools, inspectors found that staff generally used a good range of learning and teaching approaches which enabled children to be more actively involved in their learning. Schools have taken many positive steps to develop and improve the curriculum and should build on this to meet the needs of all children.

Our evidence shows that schools now need to put in place better arrangements for assessing and tracking children’s progress, including having a shared understanding of standards within Curriculum for Excellence levels. As a priority, they should identify and address any gaps in attainment and achievement between their least and most disadvantaged children.

Our inspections continue to show that staff are working hard in most of the schools inspected to ensure that children are actively involved in their learning. Increasingly we see children less passive in their learning due to efforts made by staff to encourage children to think. A common misconception is that if children are moving around they are active in their learning.  Our strongest schools ensure children are thinking and learning during activities.

Often on inspections we can observe really strong practice in an aspect of learning in one class but not in another. It is important that staff visit other classes regularly to learn from their colleagues. A particular strength we observed in one school was where, as part of the moderation at a cluster level, staff at the same stage across the cluster planned a series of lessons to ensure consistency in standards. In addition, they observed these lessons being taught in classes providing feedback on the quality of learning and teaching. In doing this not only did they share expected standards but they achieved more consistent high quality learning and teaching.

This academic year there has been a noticeable improvement in the number of schools who now have a system to track children’s progress more effectively. In almost all schools inspected the headteacher and staff now have an overview of children’s attainment. Where this works best staff all have a clearly understood approach to assessment within their classes which is robust and informs their professional judgement.

In the strongest schools this is articulated in an assessment framework to ensure staff are clear of expectations. We have had several strong approaches to assessment in some of our inspections where staff plan assessment as they are planning their learning and teaching. Assessment is then part of the on-going work, it is less bureaucratic and there is a balance between the use of summative and formative assessment to inform staff of children’s progress.

Already we are seeing schools making good use of the benchmarks to assess children’s progress and make judgements about achieving the level. Since August we have noted some strong practice where staff and the senior management team  meet regularly to discuss the attainment of individuals and cohorts of children. In doing this, interventions are planned to raise attainment or close the gap in attainment, and previous interventions are evaluated as to their effectiveness.

A few schools inspected, in addition to having an overarching view of children’s attainment, drill down to monitor and evaluate the attainment of specific groups. For example, they look at specific cohorts such as children with English as an additional language (EAL), children who are looked after and accommodated (LAC) and children living in SIMD 1&2. This is particularly important in planning interventions to ensure the impact of pupil equity funding.

It is good to see these initiatives being implemented, and I look forward to seeing their impact on the outcomes of our primary pupils.

Confident collaboration for improvement – the legacy of QuISE?

by Dr Bill Maxwell, HM Chief Inspector of Education

The publication of our report on Quality and improvement in Scottish education (QuISE), ranging back over the period 2012 to 2016, has been a great opportunity to take a step back from more immediate short-term concerns and take a ‘bigger picture’ view of what has been achieved over a period of major reform which has touched every area of Scottish education.

Having launched the report, I would now encourage each education setting to read their dedicated chapter and consider it in their self-evaluation.

Of course there is already good evidence around that, as result of the professionalism and expertise of staff and of course the efforts of learners themselves, outcomes have improved over that stretch of time. National Qualification outcomes have steadily improved and the proportion of young people entering a positive destination post-school now sits at a record high. Although there is still a long way to go, we have also seen evidence of progress in beginning to close the attainment gap between pupils from the most and the least disadvantaged backgrounds.

Equally, of course, not all in the statistical garden in rosy. We have also seen some unwelcome indications that we should be concerned about the pace of progress in literacy and numeracy through the broad general education, for example, and we saw a disappointing set of PISA results for 2015.

The QuISE report, offers a distinctly different, but complementary, perspective from that which you can get by simply looking at the statistics. It provides an analysis based on first-hand observation and evaluation of the quality what is actually happening in playrooms, classrooms, lecture rooms and other educational settings throughout the country. It summarises observation and evaluation undertaken by expert professionals, HM inspectors and indeed many other associates and lay members from education sectors across the country who join our inspection teams contributing a valuable additional perspective.

Our analysis of what has emerged from that more qualitative evidence base over the last four years has led us to conclude that there are some very positive and growing strengths in the provision and practice within Scottish education. These are strengths that align directly with the ambitions of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and other related reforms.

We are seeing improvement in the quality of learning experiences, with the result that young people are increasingly well motivated, engaged and actively involved in their learning. We are seeing schools and other education settings becoming more inclusive, we are seeing a broader range of achievements being promoted and recognised, and we are seeing the impact of strong leadership, with a clear and sustained focus on raising the quality of the day-to-day learning and teaching that learners experience.

The report also sets out a set of five priority areas. This is where we believe targeted improvements in practice and provision would reap dividends in enabling us to make further progress towards meeting our collective national ambition of achieving excellence with equity for all Scottish learners. They include: exploiting more fully the flexibility of CfE; improving assessment and personal support; enhancing partnerships; strengthening approaches to self-evaluation and improvement; and growing a culture of collaborative enquiry. In all cases these go with the flow of current reforms and national strategies and in each case there are already examples of excellent practice in the system.

Taking a longer view of what has been achieved over the last few years, and thinking about where we go next, has also had quite a personal dimension for me, as I retire from the role of Chief Executive of Education Scotland this Summer. As I prepare to move on, I am convinced that the Scottish education system is well placed to make substantial progress across each of these key areas.

If I were to pick out a linking theme it would be about collective commitment across all partners in the education system to work together, to help each other, and indeed to constructively challenge each other, in ways which provide richer, more coherent, more personalised learning pathways capable of matching the needs of all our learners. Confident collaboration for improvement rather than competitive isolation should be the Scottish way, reflecting our deep national commitment to a strong education as a common public good.

Taking account of the themes in this report, and with the National Improvement Framework providing a new level of clarity and focus from national to local level, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge that the OECD left us with following their 2015 review: to make sure we achieve the potential of a progressive programme of national educational reform, by taking bold and specific action to fully realise its benefits. I hope the QuISE report helps inform discussion and debate in education settings of all types, across the whole country, about where that specific action is needed and how boldness can be ensured as it is pursued.

 

Larbert High School Inspection Experience

As part of Education Scotland’s on-going Inspection Mythbuster’s campaign, which has been developed to help beat the common misconceptions of inspection which have built up over the years, we have invited the Headteacher at Larbert High School, Falkirk, to blog about his inspection experience:

“You know at some point an inspection is inevitable and it was actually a bit of a relief when we received notification of our inspection for January 2017. No more ‘dreaded boxes’, just a simple and efficient email from our Inspection Administrator at Education Scotland and a call from our Head of Service.  This was followed by a lengthy conversation with our Managing Inspector, who in a very reassuring manner, described the process in detail and answered our (many) questions.

There is definitely some lingering scepticism in the system as to whether or not ‘HM Inspectors are working in partnership with the school’ (as is heralded) but our experience – before, during and after – absolutely affirmed that this was their genuine intention from the start. Each and every member of the team operated with that mindset in every interaction we had with them, we just treated them as part of our team and viewed it as a rare opportunity for some robust external validation.  You always think what you are doing is the right thing, and you constantly self-evaluate and compare yourselves to others, but you do not always have the luxury of having the national perspective.  Therefore, the validation for us was important.

It is important to ‘manage’ the preparation, ensuring everyone remains calm, reassured but focussed. The most significant preparation for the Senior Leadership Team following notification was the collaborative approach to completing the Self Evaluation Summary and we were forensic in its completion, matching the evidence we were providing for the team against HGIOS4. We thought we knew our school really well but having completed this exercise, we know it even better now and this is something that we would strongly recommend all schools do in advance as part of their self-evaluation cycle – even if you are some time away from a visit.

Inspectors are busy people and there is a lot to fit in during the course of a week. As the opening discussion was taking place with some members of the team, others were out and about in classes.  We did not have a big, elaborate presentation just a very honest and direct conversation around the paperwork that we had previously submitted.  During the course of the week the conversations and interactions continued and we found the team to be flexible and accommodating – it genuinely seemed like a partnership and we got the impression that they wanted to do the very best for us (as well as us for them). 

The hardest part is the build-up to the actual inspection week which undoubtedly does comes with a little professional anxiety; everyone wants to do their very best. The self-evaluation summary is the building block from which it all starts, and if it is robust and honest, it makes the week far easier allowing time to be spent engaged in conversation – we could not stress that enough, so make a mental note to start on it soon.”

Jon Reid, Headteacher at Larbert High School, Falkirk

For more information about the Inspection Mythbuster’s campaign please visit the Education Scotland website.

 

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.

#InspectionMythBusters
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