School Inspections

Before the Inspection

It should be noted that the format of inspections has changed significantly over recent years. There have also been changes to the inspection model intended to take account of the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence (for inspections announced in January 2011 and later). The inspection process is intended to be much more open than might have been seen previously. The inspectorate themselves (regardless of how an individual inspection is seen) see inspections as “assisted self evaluation”.

The Authority was previously given at least three weeks' notice of an inspection (except the occasional “Care and Welfare” inspections, for which no notice needed to be given).   From some time in 2011, however, notice to staff may be limited to only ten days. This short notice has no bearing on workload agreements. The school WTA remains unchanged except by agreement with the staff.

The notification given to the authority should be passed to the headteacher immediately and the headteacher must also immediately inform all teaching staff.   “Whole school” inspections are now infrequent.   The inspection will “focus on learning and teaching more widely across the school to gather evidence about the quality of children's broad education”. The process will therefore no longer focus on four selected subjects.

Upon notification of an inspection, members are urged to read the relevant HMIe advice on the inspection process. The details are available via the HMIe website. From the homepage select “about inspections” and see in particular “HMIe Inspection Advice Note January 2011” (which emphasises the CfE aspects of an inspection). Albeit that CfE implementation is currently in its infancy, it is clear that progress with CfE (and interpretations of CfE) is of huge significance. HMIe are careful, however, to point out that the implementation of CfE will not be inspected. Whether this is the case will become apparent as inspection reports become available. The focus will be on the Quality Indicators identified in the HMIe document. HMIe note that there are “increased expectations” with regard to certain QIs. Members should be aware of these.

HMIe will detail the documentation which they wish to see in advance of the inspection.   This will include school and departmental policy documents.   Principal Teachers have a significant rôle in the preparation of the documentation.   There is the possibility that workload does become an issue at the time of inspections (see later comment) but there can be no doubt that the provision of this documentation must be seen as a priority item and hence other administrative tasks may be delayed. Senior managements are expected to recognise this from the outset.   Any member of staff who is in doubt as to the required documentation should see the headteacher in order that any necessary clarification should be sought.

Shortly after the authority is notified, the HMIe Reporting Officer will contact the headteacher to make arrangements for timings of meeting and other matters of procedure.   The headteacher will be invited to ask questions and should do so if there are doubts as to any aspect of the inspection.   The headteacher must inform staff of any arrangements agreed with the inspection team. The headteacher has every reason to take account of the normal work of the school and should ascertain that the suggested schedule does not conflict with school activities which are seen as normal or desirable.   As example, pre-arranged visits by pupils and school founder days or other days of celebration of achievement should not be cancelled or postponed.

The Headteacher will be sent enough copies of the HMIe DVD “A Guide to School Inspection” to provide one for every member of staff.   Every teacher should therefore receive a copy. Members are urged to watch it. It gives a significant amount of detail on the inspection process.

The Inspection Questionnaire

All teachers (as well as parents and some students) will be given a pre-inspection questionnaire. It is essential that this is completed and returned to the HMI. The contents are totally confidential. It is not given to the HT (or “office”) unless the teacher wishes to use this mechanism. It is difficult after any inspection to attempt to take issue with the inspection report if the information on the issue was withheld from the HMI and could have been given in total confidence even before the inspection started via the inspection questionnaire.

HMI do not go into schools with a pre-set agenda based on hearsay. That is not any part of the inspection process but staff are expected to be completely honest in answering the questionnaire. If there are issues over harassment or lack of collegiality, the questionnaire is the mechanism for the raising of such concerns.

The Inspection Process

Inspectors will visit classes and observe lessons as required and they should not be hindered in this.   It is possible that these visits follow specific requests from the headteacher and this may follow from the headteacher's view as to particular strengths or weaknesses.   The arrival of the inspector does not mean that a weakness is suspected.

The inspection team may contain a lay member whose background is unlikely to be in education.   The lay member may take a particular interest in interviewing pupils and parents.

The HMIe will be prepared to speak to any staff who wish to do so.   Members should make use of this facility if they wish to raise any issue which might influence the final report. HMIe will not automatically speak to teacher union representatives but very often do so.

School reps are asked to make contact with the senior inspector and to be available to discuss issues with any member of the inspection team. This contact should always be made where members in the school have concerns over relations between senior management and teaching staff. The school rep may ask other SSTA members to attend if they have a particular contribution to make. Again, such discussions are confidential.

Another new feature will be the use of a nominated member or members of staff as part of the inspection team. The intent is to “increase staff involvement” in the inspection process. It remains to be seen how this arrangement will be put into effect and whether the stated aim is achieved. Members who have concerns on this issue in particular should contact the General Secretary as soon as the issue arises.

Oral Feedback

At the conclusion of the observation phase, the senior Inspector(s) will provide oral feedback which must be regarded as being preliminary to the headteacher and perhaps other members of the SMT.   The headteacher will be asked to relay this feedback verbally to all staff. The headteacher is not expected to give a verbatim account of the feedback but should include all of the significant points raised by the HMIE.   Headteacher are encouraged to take notes of the feedback session in order to assist in relaying the terms of the feedback to staff.

The Formal Report and the Record of Findings

The Reporting HMIe will normally send a draft of the report to the headteacher within four to six weeks of the conclusion of the inspection and will arrange to meet the headteacher to discuss the report.   At that point the headteacher will be asked to relay to staff the general terms of the report.   Any department or subject group which was observed during the inspection will be shown the relevant section of the draft report.   The headteacher is expected to inform members of these departments of the key findings and members of these departments should ensure that this information is provided at this stage.

The full report is generally published about ten weeks after the conclusion of the inspection.   The new report will be much shorter than previously and will take the form of a letter to parents. Copies are eventually to be made available to parents electronically and the report is available publicly. A few paper copies will be sent to the headteacher to allow distribution to parents who request a paper copy.

In addition to the formal report, the HMI will produce a “Record of Inspection Findings (RIF)”. This is not distributed publicly but is available electronically to the authority and headteacher. Parts of the Record of Findings can be given to individual teachers or PTs. Members are strongly urged to require to see the relevant part of the Record of Findings before agreeing to discuss the contents. This applies also to any “whole school” actions proposed as a result of the Record of Findings.

The final report should not differ significantly from the terms of the oral feedback given to the headteacher after the inspection visit.   It is, however, possible that this can happen but should only arise where the HMIe become aware of additional matters after the oral feedback stage.   The inspector concerned should give the headteacher the reason for any substantial change.

Headteachers should note that the authority is likely to see the final report before a copy is received by the headteacher. The headteacher is given copies which should be distributed to staff, School Board and parents. The final report will usually contain an embargo date which relates only to disclosure to the public. This embargo should not be used to prevent discussion of the terms of the report within schools.   Valuable time may be lost if headteachers do not share the final report's contents with staff as indicated above. The embargo relating to public discussion must be observed.

Comments on the Report

The final report should invite comment from any interested parties.   Members who wish to avail themselves of this facility do not require permission to make such comment but it is advisable that any member who wishes to make critical comment on the report (or on any aspect of the inspection process) contact the General Secretary in writing before doing so.

Follow Up

The headteacher and the education authority are expected to prepare an action plan based on the report's findings and this is sent to the inspectorate within four months of the publication of the report.   Staff should be consulted on the action plan. It should be noted that the lack of such consultation often later leads to significant disputes. The action plan is usually sent to parents and should be seen by staff as soon as it is available.

It should be noted that the authority action plan may require a redrafting of school and departmental development plans.   This can lead to significant pressures on staff time.   Supply staff can and should be employed to meet any demands in this area (or to meet any other demands associated within the inspection process).

The HMIe will revisit the school (if they feel it necessary) about two years after the publication of the report.   They will further report on the degree to which the action plan has been implemented.   The follow up report is also published and sent to parents.

Public Comment

HMIe Reports are documents in the public domain often subject to comment in the media (see later advice to members).

Specific Advice for Members Relating to the Conduct of Inspections

1.  School representatives are asked to ensure that copies of this advice are available to all members. It is also available on the Association website.

2. The inspection process should not demand that members are required to make use of significant amounts of their own time in order to facilitate aspects of the inspection.   Members should not be placed under pressure to provide this time.   It must be clearly noted, however, that promoted staff will require to undertake additional tasks before, during and after inspections but this commitment should not be extensive.   Members who have concerns in this matter should contact the General Secretary without delay.   If, however, a departmental feedback session is offered, this may have to be at the end of the school day.   Members should do whatever they can to arrange to attend this particular feedback.

3. As indicated in their Inspection Advice Note, HMIe will use and make reference to “How Good Is Our School 3” and other documentation as “key resource”.   These documents were not the subject of agreement with the teacher unions.   Members may wish to refresh their memories as to their contents (in particular HGIOS3).

4. Members should avail themselves of every opportunity to attend all briefing sessions relating to the inspection.   There is generally a pre-inspection briefing by the HMIe.   Senior Management and PTs should take care to involve part-time staff in the pre-inspection process.

5. The effect of the inspection on small departments has been the subject of concern in recent times.   The provision of the documentation prior to the inspection is a duty of promoted staff and unpromoted teachers should not be involved in this.   This applies regardless of whether the department has a PT.   Observation of classes in small departments (most obviously in one teacher departments) may result in one teacher being subject to a significant number of observations.   HMIE are expected to take account of this and should not visit the classes of one teacher on a significant number of occasions.   One observation on any day would be a reasonable limit.   This would also apply where a teacher works in more than one subject department.

6. It is most important that members involve themselves fully in the discussions which take place following the oral feedback.   It is at this point that members must point out any areas of dispute which would arise from the oral feedback.   If this is not done at this stage, the opportunity will be lost. It will be impossible to amend the final report.   Headteachers must relay the observations of staff to the HMIe.

7. Where the authority action plan requires significant input of staff time, the School Negotiating Committee should meet as soon as possible to determine whether amendments to the school's 35 hour working week agreement are necessary. It must be kept firmly in mind that the inspection process is no reason for the abandoning of contractual conditions on workload.

8. Members who feel that an inspection report (or any press comment on the inspection report) is unfair should write to the General Secretary in the first instance. Members must not make public comment on any aspect of the inspection process or the report itself.

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