Some of the misconceptions about inspection which have built up over the years are considered and explained below.
Myth 1: Education Scotland only inspect schools
Actually there are many different areas of education we inspect or review. As well as primary, secondary and all-through schools our inspections and review also include early learning and childcare; children’s services; community learning and development; residential special schools; prison education; independent schools and colleges; and educational psychology services. We work together with the Care Inspectorate to inspect early learning and childcare and school care accommodation and with Skills Development Scotland to review career information advice and guidance services and Modern Apprenticeships. The myths we’re looking at over the next few weeks will initially focus on school inspections. We’ll be looking at myths around our other inspection and review areas too, in due course.
Myth 2: You need to set aside weeks to prepare for an inspection
Inspectors do not expect teachers to be doing anything differently in advance of an inspection. Inspectors assume that you are providing high-quality provision for children every day and therefore we are happy to observe what you would be doing on an ordinary day without any special changes for an inspection.
Myth 3: Inspectors are not interested in speaking to staff during their visit
Inspectors are extremely interested in what all staff have to say. We send questionnaires to staff in advance of our visit. Speaking to staff is one of the most important things we do during an inspection. We may speak to teachers while we observe their lessons, or at the end of a lesson. Meetings with groups of staff, and with individuals, are always part of the inspection timetable, and we are happy to set up additional meetings in the course of the week. We offer a ‘drop-in’ session, when staff may come and talk to us about any aspect of their work they wish.
Myth 4: Inspections are just a snapshot; they are not a true picture
Inspectors aim to carry out inspections ‘with, not to’ schools. That means they plan inspection activities in partnership with the headteacher. The inspection begins with the school’s evaluation of its own work, so it is important for the headteacher to ensure inspectors get a full and accurate picture. Inspectors then observe lessons and speak to teachers, other staff at the school pupils and parents. By the end of the inspection week, they have much more than a ‘snapshot’ on which to base their evaluations.
Myth 5: Inspectors don’t know what it is like to work in a school
School inspectors all have extensive experience in education, with many having been teachers or headteachers. Others may be educational psychologists or bring wider experience from other sectors including colleges, early years and community learning and development. Inspection teams are very often joined by practising principal teachers, depute headteachers or headteachers, known as Associate Assessors. This ensures we have current, up-to-date expertise in our inspection teams, complementing the experience of the inspectors. All members of inspection teams know how important it is to establish and maintain positive and respectful relationships with staff during an inspection.
Myth 6: All paperwork needs to be in order and all policies updated
Education Scotland provides a headteacher's briefing note to schools being inspected to ensure they know what to expect, and what papers or examples of work the inspection team will want to see. We try to keep the paperwork required to a minimum. Sometimes, schools provide us with much more paperwork than we have asked for, and more than we would ever have time to read. There is certainly no need to update all a school's policies before an inspection. Inspectors will be interested to know if any particular policy has improved teachers' understanding of what the school is aiming to do, or if it has led to real improvements for children and young people.
Myth 7: Inspectors have made up their minds before they even arrive
The headteacher is asked to complete a self-evaluation form before the start of an inspection, and the inspection team will have read the form before arriving. They will have questions to ask based on what they have read, but they will not have made up their minds. They do that based on the school’s evaluation of its own work and the inspection activities carried out during the week; observing lessons and speaking to teachers, other staff, pupils and parents. Inspectors have wide-ranging and thorough discussions at the end of the inspection week before deciding on their evaluations.
Myth 8: Inspectors don’t take account of the context of the school
The inspection begins with the school’s evaluation of its own work, so it is important for the headteacher to ensure the inspection team gets a full and accurate picture of the school’s particular context. In secondary schools, inspectors are able to refer to statistical information which takes account of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). This helps them take account of the school’s social and economic context. To reflect the unique nature of the school, we ask the headteacher to choose a particular aspect of its work for the inspection team to look at.
Myth 9: Staff in schools being inspected spend their evenings and weekends updating wall displays, cleaning their classroom and generally preparing for inspection
It is not surprising that teachers want to present their schools as positively as possible for an inspection, but there should be no need to work evenings and weekends. We would expect schools to be attractive places for learning at all times, not just when inspectors are around. Similarly, we would expect teachers to be providing high-quality learning experiences for children and young people at all times. They should not feel the need to do things differently when the inspection team are in the school. One of the most successful Headteachers in Scotland summed it up well when he said: 'I'm interested in improving things for the young people all the time; you lot can come and inspect any time you like!'
Myth 10: Inspection is an isolated event that doesn’t really have any purpose other than adding stress to the school
The Scottish approach to bringing about improvement in schools is based on the idea that schools will evaluate their own work and then take action to share good practice and plan for any necessary improvements. In doing this, they are supported and challenged by their local authorities and by the inspection team. So inspection should not be seen as an isolated event, but rather part of an ongoing process which ensures school improvement.
Inspections have three main purposes: to give reassurance to parents and other stakeholders that a school is providing the high-quality education expected for Scotland’s children and young people; to support improvement through professional discussion and sharing good practice; and to inform national policy on education.
Myth 11: Inspectors just want to catch us out
Inspectors want to find out as much as they can about a school’s work so they can make the right evaluations. Sometimes this means they will ask teachers and other staff about something they have read in a document, or about what a senior manager has told them. In doing this, they are not trying to catch anyone out. They are ensuring they fully understand the work of the school. They want to know if all staff have a shared understanding of what they are aiming to achieve for children and young people, and how.
Inspectors also want to support improvement through discussions with teachers about their work. It is great when teachers are used to taking part in this kind of discussion regularly in their schools. Inspectors can always tell when teachers are not used to talking about their practice and, as a result, may feel uncomfortable about engaging in discussions with inspectors.
Myth 12: The better and higher quantity of paperwork we give the team the better the result
Inspectors are, first and foremost, interested in the learning experiences and achievements of children and young people, and how the school is ensuring these are of the highest possible quality. Inspections are not about evaluating paperwork. Inspectors ask for a small amount of paperwork to help them understand the work of the school. Sometimes, schools give us more paperwork than we ask for, and more than we would ever have time to read.
Myth 13: Inspectors are aloof and unapproachable
Inspectors know how important it is to establish and maintain positive and respectful relationships with staff during an inspection. This is a key aspect of their training. Discussions with teachers are a very important element of every inspection. At the start of the inspection week, the Managing Inspector lets teachers know about the opportunities they will have to speak to the inspection team. There will be timetabled meetings, opportunities for discussion when inspectors are in classrooms, and an invitation to a ‘drop in’ session when teachers can talk to inspectors about any aspect of their work they wish.
Myth 14: Inspectors assess and grade every lesson
In every inspection, inspectors observe a number of lessons, or parts of lessons. The number of observations depends on the size of the school. After observing a lesson, or part of a lesson, inspectors will take the opportunity to speak with the teacher about what they have seen, if it is convenient for the teacher. If not, teachers can arrange to have a discussion about their lesson at another time. Any discussion with individual teachers about their lessons is brief and does not involve a formal evaluation. At the end of the inspection, the inspection team will consider the strengths and aspects for improvement they have seen across all of their lesson observations. They will then decide on their evaluation of learning and teaching across the school as a whole.
Myth 15: There is no opportunity to suggest changes to the findings after the inspection week is over
At the end of the inspection week, the inspection team will share their findings and their provisional evaluations of the school’s work with senior managers and local authority officers. There are opportunities for detailed discussion about the school’s strengths and aspects for improvement. If the school does not agree with the evaluations, and believes that inspectors have not understood all aspects of its work, the managing inspector will agree to look at additional, relevant evidence after the inspection. In some cases, further meetings will take place to discuss evaluations. Evaluations are quality assured by inspectors who manage the overall inspection programmes to ensure that all evaluations are fair and consistent. Schools, the Chair of the Parent Council and the local authority have the opportunity to comment on the wording of the letter for parents before it is published.