Education Bill: consultation analysis

The independent analysis by Wellside of responses to the consultation on the Education (Scotland) Bill, commissioned by the Scottish Government.

3. Reform of Education Inspection

The Muir Report set out two key recommendations related to inspection which were further explored by this consultation. These included:

1. A new inspectorate body should be established with its independence enshrined in legislation. Its governance should reflect this independence, with the body funded by the Scottish Parliament, staffed by civil servants and inspectors, the latter of which are appointed with the approval of His Majesty via the Privy Council.

2. Critical roles of the independent inspectorate will be to support improvement, evaluate major changes in the education system and report annually and over longer periods, on the performance of Scottish education.

Purposes of Inspection

The consultation paper set out the Scottish Government’s support for the following core purposes of inspection:

1. to provide public accountability and assurance on the quality of education to learners, their parents/carers and the Scottish Parliament;

2. to support education providers, including schools, teachers and other practitioners to improve, through capacity building and sharing effective practice; and

3. to share evidence about education and training to support services to improve and inform the development of education policy.

Q6: Do you agree or disagree with the purposes set out? Is there anything in addition you would like to see included?

Just over two thirds (69%, n=265) of all respondents agreed with the purposes of inspection as set out in the consultation document.

Number Percent Valid Percent
Agree 265 69% 87%
Disagree 41 10% 13%
Sub-Total (Answered Qu) 306
Not Answered 80 21%
Total 386

Similarly, the majority of those who provided a qualitative response to this question agreed with the purposes as set out. There were, however, some differences in the support offered for each, and several comments were made that the purposes should be prioritised and re-ordered compared to the way that they appeared in the consultation document (with priority 2 then 3 followed by 1):

“…the main focus should be the support of education providers, followed by a desire to share evidence and good practice, with a focus on public accountability and quality assurance being subservient to the other two focuses.” (School/Early Years)

Priorities Two and Three

Many respondents stated that ‘support’ in the round should be the main purpose of inspection (including support for education providers - schools, teachers and other practitioners). While most respondents perceived that support for education providers was the main priority, there were suggestions that ‘support’ could also be more widely considered, i.e. to include reference to private, voluntary and independent providers. Several respondents also suggested that the crucial role of local authorities in terms of supporting and challenging to bring about improvement should be made explicit in the second purpose:

“We broadly agree with the purposes as set out, although we would like to see specific mention made of local authorities within the purposes. The second core purpose of inspection is “to support education providers, including schools, teachers and other practitioners to improve, through capacity building and sharing practice.” We feel it is important to make a specific reference in this statement to local authorities given the importance of ensuring local authority-wide capacity for improvement.” (Local Authority)

While supported, there were also calls for greater clarity around what was meant by ‘improvement’ and ‘capacity building’.

The emphasis on supporting improvement through the sharing of evidence and good practice was also very much welcomed and was seen as something which could support consistency across the system (which event respondents and others indicated was needed). There was also considerable support for this purpose, not least because it was an important way of ensuring continued professional development for education staff (which, in turn, may benefit both practitioners and the children and families they support). This was also welcomed as an improvement on the old inspection purpose:

“…we appreciate the emphasis on supporting improvement through the sharing of effective practices, acknowledging that this has not been a consistent feature of past practices by HMIe because they have not had the capacity to undertake this aspect of their work.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

A clearer definition of what was meant by ‘services’ in respect of this function was encouraged, as well as potentially adding the sharing of learning and effective practice in research from colleges, universities and partners in other geographical jurisdictions. Similarly, further clarification was sought around what forms of evidence might be collected, with whom, and where and how often it might be shared. Overall, however, there was agreement that a core purpose would be to ensure the provision of timely and actionable feedback to education providers (ensuring that it was specific, constructive, and delivered promptly).

A small number of respondents suggested the notion of ‘enhancement’ be added to the cited purposes (2 and 3 above), since the focus should be to add value to the school improvement journey (i.e. to ‘enhance’ what already works well, rather than focusing on what needs to ‘improve’). Others suggested that terminology such as ‘improvement’ was unhelpful and intrinsically critical, and that ‘development’ may be more appropriate. There was also encouragement that success should be celebrated and showcased, using positive thematic case studies:

“We would like to see added to the purposes, the celebration of success as a result of inspection processes. There is far too much negativity around education at the moment.” (School/Early Years)

Priority One

While most respondents agreed with the purpose of accountability and assurance, it was suggested this was of lesser priority (and could be perceived as adversarial, having a punitive function and making establishments feel unduly scrutinised). It was felt that placing accountability third in the hierarchy would ensure the key focus remains on building capacity and sharing effective practice to support and deliver the best education for young people. In general terms, respondents agreed that public accountability (including accountability to communities) and assurance on the quality of education was an important purpose of inspection, but only if implemented in a supportive, collaborative and collegiate way:

“…there must be greater emphasis on support for education providers in the reform so that inspections are viewed as ways to improve, with any negatives seen as a learning opportunity and not condemnation.” (Third Sector)

It was also felt that the three purposes outlined in the consultation document should be delivered proactively and on an ongoing basis, i.e. more support/advice/ guidance from inspectors post-inspection on improvements/making changes:

“The second and third purposes should be proactively pursued to ensure that the support outlined benefits all stages of school improvement and is not merely provided at the point of inspection.” (Local Authority)

Additional Suggestions

Several respondents indicated a desire to see a specific purpose linked to safeguarding and protection, and this was perhaps the main ‘additional’ purpose that was highlighted:

“The inspectorate must have the safeguarding and protection of children and young people from harm as its pre-eminent objective and it is alarming to see it missing from what the Scottish Government regards as the core purposes of inspection.” (School/Early Years)

There were few other ‘additional’ purposes cited, although a wide range of other comments were provided linked to the way in which the inspections process itself should be improved. These suggestions are outlined in Chapter 4, but largely focus on developing a more collaborative and supportive inspection approach.

Overall, comments were made that while the proposed purposes were sound, there remained scope for wider improvements to the inspection framework to make it more rigorous:

“We appreciate the acknowledgment of core purposes in the consultation document but stress the need for a more collaborative, supportive, and forward-thinking inspection framework.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

Caveats and Limitations to Support

A few respondents who agreed with the purposes overall expressed disagreement with the proposal that there needed to be a legislative framework around inspection. This would create additional bureaucracy, it was felt (and was discussed more in response to later questions).

Several respondents also highlighted that the purposes, as specified, were perhaps vague in relation to specific sectors (including community learning, the tertiary sector and modern apprenticeships). This too was discussed at later questions.

Non-Supportive Comments

Among those who said that they disagreed with the purposes as set out (and some who did not answer the closed question), many of the qualitative comments were similar to those who had indicated agreement, i.e. that the future of inspection required a consultative and developmental approach to collaborative practice, rather than a punitive reporting model. Again, respondents stressed that accountability should not be the priority and should not place unnecessary or excessive workload and bureaucratic burdens on teachers and school leaders. It was stressed that the main purpose of the inspectorate should be to work collaboratively with schools and their communities to support staff and improve the quality of education for their pupils:

“Through inspection activity, and the evidence it generates, education providers should be supported to improve the quality of education and training and outcomes for all learners. The inspectorate should support education providers in making evidence-informed improvements in the quality of education, training and outcomes for all learners in Scotland through inspection, capacity building and advice.” (National Agency/Public Body)

Again, there was some resistance to the notion of ‘improvement’ and suggestions that the inspection function should instead be to ensure that education was ‘adequate’ (since focusing on continuous improvement may place unreasonable demands on educators, pupils and students). Respondents encouraged a more holistic (and non-academic) view of ‘education’, i.e. that the focus should be on ensuring that pupils/students acquire and develop the range of knowledge and skills required to become independent adults). This included consideration of learning that could occur in non-conventional learning environments. As such, an additional purpose linked to improving outcomes and experiences of education more generally for all children and young people was encouraged.

Comments were also made by those who disagreed with the purposes as set out that the inspections should hold the government to account (local and central) rather than individual schools.

Some who indicated that they disagreed or who did not answer the closed question stressed that sharing of evidence would only be effective if the evidence being shared was independent and free from bias:

“If we are to deliver public accountability and assurance regarding the quality of education to learners, their parents, carers, and the Scottish Parliament, it is essential to produce reports free from external influence.” (Local Authority)

Several respondents were sceptical that the purposes would be delivered and achieved (based on historical bad experiences of inspections).

A final general comment was made that, while the purposes set out were agreeable, they were perhaps too aspirational and that their delivery would only be possible if sufficiently resourced:

“The list above is incredibly aspirational. The current inspectorate is significantly under resourced and lacks sufficient budget to provide in all of these areas… We need to ensure - whilst being aspirational - we are also realistic about what can be achieved in periods of budget cuts and limited resources.” (Individual)

Range of Establishments and Services

The consultation paper set out a list of establishments and services where it felt that education inspection should be continued. Feedback was sought (at Q7) on the range of establishments to be inspected by HM Inspectors of Education, and (at Q8) on the role of the Inspectorate of Education related to publicly funded colleges, initial teacher education (ITE), early learning and childcare (ELC), and modern apprenticeships.

Q7: Do you agree or disagree with the range of establishments to be inspected by HM Inspectors of Education? Is there anything you would change?

Again, two thirds of respondents (66%, n=256) supported the notion that education inspection should be provided to the full range of establishments and services set out in the consultation paper.

Number Percent Valid Percent
Agree 256 66% 84%
Disagree 49 13% 16%
Sub-Total (Answered Qu) 305
Not Answered 81 21%
Total 386

In line with responses at Q6 above, the main qualitative feedback provided here was linked to how the inspection process for all establishments could be improved. Again, this is discussed in the following chapter.

While there was agreement that all places where children and young people learn should be inspected by the same body to ensure consistency, comments were also made that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to inspection would not be appropriate and must always be context specific.

Additional Establishments to be Included

In terms of other establishments that respondents would like to see inspected, some suggested that Education Scotland should be subject to inspection and scrutiny alongside those informing and drafting education policy:

“There should be inspections at all levels of the education and skill system. This includes any national or local government committees involved in preparing policy about curriculum and assessment. To inspect the end result is to miss opportunities for accountability and quality assurance…To inspect the implementation end of education policy but ignore policy writers is to completely misunderstand appraisal. There must be inspection of policy making within the evaluation cycle.” (Individual)

Comments were also made that local authorities should be inspected, not just their schools/individual establishments, while events also included discussion of whether schools or local authorities (or both) should be inspected:

“…we would prefer that the quality of education in Local Authorities should be inspected across the board, rather than individual schools. The Local Authorities have overall responsibility for the schools under their jurisdiction and must be held to account on the value and quality of the services they provide through all the establishments under their control.” (Trade Union/Professional Representative Body)

A small number also expressed a desire to see meaningful inspection and standardisation of local authorities/local education authorities especially with regards to the quality assurance role that they provide:

“Consideration should be given to the quality assurance role of local authorities across establishments by the new inspection body. This could enable discussions around the robustness of approaches taken to ensure consistency across Scotland, but also supporting the identification of schools to be inspected based on intelligence, and those establishments not inspected within 7-9 years prioritised.” (Local Authority)

A very small number of comments were also made throughout the consultation questioning if it might be appropriate for universities to be included in the HMIe remit:

“…there is no mention of universities in general here or elsewhere. The rank of 'Professor' gives people a voice in the media and elsewhere, so their work must be inspected and be judged reliable too.” (Individual)

Other suggestions included broadening inspections to:

  • third sector and ‘for profit’ organisations that provide educational services in publicly funded establishments or who receive public funds for work in the settings specified;
  • organisations that deliver residential courses to school pupils;
  • ‘alternative’ school settings, such as online schools and forest schools;
  • campus schools/schools with shared management arrangements;
  • independent religious schools/faith schools;
  • junior conservatoire/specialist organisations providing education to children and young people with particular talents;
  • situations where a child is home schooled;
  • outreach and inclusion services that support children who are not in school on a full-time basis;
  • counselling and psychology services (within schools);
  • services providing for students with Additional Support Needs;
  • initial teacher education (ITE) establishments (also suggested in events);
  • general teaching council for Scotland (GTCS);
  • managing agents, who bridge the gap between colleges and professions;
  • training providers working in different sectors (including those offering vocational qualifications); and
  • police (where they have a role in education/education establishments).

Areas for Clarification or Concern

There was a small number of queries raised in relation to the establishments listed, specifically that:

  • it was unclear if/why HMIe would have a role in the inspection of ELC premises beyond those which are attached to school premises;
  • it was unclear why Gaelic education was listed as a separate inspection entity on the list (instead of being inspected in the context of its setting);
  • there was a lack of clarity around how the inspection model for different establishments would be chosen;
  • it was questionable if education provision in prisons and young offender institutions should be contingent on the request of the HM Inspectorate of Prisons in Scotland rather than a more a systematic and proactive approach being adopted;
  • it would be useful to have further detail provided about the role of Community Learning and Development (CLD) involvement in inspections across the range of establishments (and possible rewording within the list of establishments to ‘Community Learning and Development functions of local authorities’ to reflect the fact that not all areas have a dedicated CLD Service);
  • it would be helpful to understand why career information, advice and guidance services had been included in the list, which are currently the responsibility of Skills Development Scotland (SDS); and
  • the information outlined within the SG consultation could/should be considered in line with the direction of travel identified by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) tertiary quality framework to avoid any duplication of review/inspection and assessment by multiple agencies going forward.

There was also some scepticism regarding capacity for HMIe to deliver across all of the establishment types listed, and it was felt that the diverse range of settings may make it challenging to recruit and allocate inspectors with the appropriate skills set or expertise. A few respondents suggested that there should be a greater focus on the quality enhancement of formal education (both state and private) at the early, primary, and secondary school stages rather than tertiary/post-school education.

The main service listed in the consultation that attracted mixed responses was Compliance with Nutritional Regulations for educational establishments. While some welcome its inclusion, others questioned if responsibility for compliance would be best situated outside of the HMIe framework.

Sector Specific Issues

While CLD’s inclusion in the list of establishments to be inspected was welcomed, this sat alongside concerns that some voluntary delivery partners may be asked to meet high standards whilst funding was concurrently being reduced or removed.

Respondents also discussed the current inspection arrangements for the early learning and childcare (ELC) sector, noting the involvement of both the Care Inspectorate and HMIe. It was argued that a single body should be established for the inspection of ELC to avoid duplication, although respondents did not always offer a preference for how this should be achieved, and it was not clear whether respondents wanted ELC to be retained or removed from the proposed list:

“There is a shared understanding across Scottish Government and local government of the importance of ELC in improving outcomes for children and young people. A single body would be the most effective way to overcome the burdens, bureaucracy, and pressures that many in the sector experience under the current system.” (Trade Union/Professional Representative Body)

Those who were supportive of reintroducing inspection at the local authority level perceived that this would provide quality assurance of delivery at the school level.

Reasons for Not Supporting the List

Among those who noted that they disagreed with the list presented, a small number reported that they did not feel that publicly or privately funded colleges should be included. The main reasons given were that these were subject to alternative inspection/quality assurance arrangements, and that colleges were currently co-designing (with SFC and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Scotland) a Tertiary Quality Enhancement Framework (TQEF). Keeping colleges on the list may result in some duplication, it was suggested, which was not cost or time effective (also discussed more in response to later questions).

Similarly, some questioned the value of existing systems of inspection and quality assurance for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes (also discussed more later in the consultation) with concerns that this may duplicate work already being undertaken.

A handful of respondents felt that independent schools and privately run establishments should not be included on the list, and that HMIe should not have a mandate over teacher education at university level, voluntary organisations or apprenticeships. Again, some respondents felt that the list was too extensive, and that it would need to be prioritised given the limited resources that would be available to HMIe:

“Inspection activity should be limited to where there is a statutory obligation to provide education. For example: schools; education functions of local authorities; and education provision in prisons and young offender institutions. There should be separate inspection bodies for other aspects. This would allow for a more streamlined, regular and focused education inspection regime.” (Individual)

Where respondents disagreed with the proposed list of establishments overall (rather than with inclusion of specific types of establishments), this was generally driven by disapproval of the current inspection process itself or a preference for inspections to take place at local authority level rather than within individual settings. Others gave more general support for the establishments listed under the proviso that any inspection model must be proportionate and risk assessed.

Q8: Do you have any specific comments on the role of the inspectorate of education in the inspection of publicly funded colleges, initial teacher education, early learning and childcare and/or modern apprenticeships?

Just under two thirds of respondents provided substantive feedback for this question with several simply stating that they felt all publicly funded institutions should be subject to external independent scrutiny in order to achieve systemic coherence across the educational spectrum.

Publicly Funded Colleges

There were mixed views regarding the role of the inspectorate of education of publicly funded collages. Some felt that HMIe inspection was critical for ensuring the quality and effectiveness of further education, however, the majority felt that tertiary education was better inspected/quality assured by other means.

The main argument given by those who did not support the inspection of publicly funded colleges by HMIe was that alternative models were already in place or would be more suitable. Specifically, respondents pointed towards the recent commissioning by the SFC of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Scotland (with input from Education Scotland) to develop and deliver reviews for publicly funded colleges and universities (which was an approach that was strongly supported for tertiary education as being more collaborative and joined up)[1].

Indeed, existing arrangements within SFC were seen to work well in relation to colleges with a sufficient degree of independence built in through commissioning external agencies to undertake reviews.

Other respondents again highlighted the work of the Tertiary Quality Project (TQP) through SFC which would bring colleges and universities into one cohesive quality assurance and enhancement framework (drawing on advice and expertise of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (SCQFP)). This drive for Further and Higher Education to rationalise one system across the tertiary sector was again welcomed and should not be interfered with, it was felt:

“There needs to be clarity that colleges will not be inspected twice by QAA and by the inspectorate and therefore creating disparity between colleges and universities at a time when most jurisdictions are looking to create a coherent tertiary sector.” (Awarding Body)

Having one joined up system by which colleges and universities were assessed was also seen to bring benefits in terms of:

  • leading to smoother transitions/pathways for students moving between college and university;
  • increasing opportunities for more effective collaborations between colleges and universities, both in the research space and in supporting student outcomes and success; and
  • encouraging parity of esteem, supporting students to take the pathway after school that best suits their needs and choices for future study and careers.

Among those who supported the inclusion of colleges in HMIe inspections, views were expressed that the inspectorate should focus on assessing the overall learning environment, teaching practices, and the alignment of courses with industry needs. Given the dynamic nature of vocational education, the inspectorate should also assess the adaptability of colleges to technological advancements and changes in the job market, it was suggested. Again, some of those who supported inspection of colleges also said that this was contingent on any plans keeping in line with the direction of travel identified by the SFC tertiary quality framework and that duplication of review/inspection and assessment by multiple agencies must be avoided. Only a very small minority supported the replacement of existing inspection and quality assurance arrangements with an entirely new model:

“We strongly believe that there should be a separation of funder and inspector for the purposes of transparency in the college sector. This approach would result in an inspection programme which is entirely independent of the Scottish Funding Council’s broader responsibilities for colleges, including funding. The present configuration could be perceived as compromising the ability for independent inspection, to comment without fear or favour, on the performance of the college sector.” (National Agency/Public Body)

A final comment was made that that any new inspection model should not lose the strengths of the previous review model in colleges which used Associate Assessors to build capacity, carry out peer review activities and add strategic value both in their own institutions and across the sector.

Initial Teacher Education

There was mixed feedback regarding the role of the inspectorate in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The dominant view, however, was that such establishments were already overseen by standards bodies or had rigorous quality checks in place. For example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) plays an independent role in creating/accrediting the standards for ITE and registration for the profession, and the ITE Self-Evaluation Framework for ITE provides feedback to HMIe. This was seen as a good example of partnership working.

Some respondents highlighted the perceived value of existing self-assessment models per se:

“We urge caution around changing the self-evaluation model… The self-evaluation framework is flexible and adaptable, allowing for differences between contexts, geographical locations and groups of learners to be considered.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

“The HMIe inspection regime for ITE needs to be proportionate and make further use of the ITE self-evaluation framework, as ITE already has available extensive QA approaches as required by university providers, such as programme management boards, quality assurance committees, course evaluation, programme evaluation and External Examiner reports.” (Post School Sector/College/University)

Similarly, others noted that universities often have their own institutional reviews of teaching and learning, and quality assurance processes which provide opportunities to evaluate the strengths and areas for development, e.g. the QAA’s Enhancement-Led Institutional Review (ELIR) process. Again, it was felt that these should be left unaltered.

Involving HMIe in inspection of ITE was, therefore, considered to be unnecessary, overly bureaucratic and potentially repetitive. It was also suggested that this might undermine the work of those already overseeing quality in this field:

“With respect to initial teacher education, any inspection system would need to support existing internal and external quality assurance processes and scrutiny mechanisms… The overall burden of quality assurance and scrutiny activity concerning Initial Teacher Education requires to be considered in support of quality enhancement…” (Trade union/professional representative body)

A small number offered a more qualified response that, if ITE inspection was to fall to a new inspectorate, this would only work if a collaborative approach (including existing partners) was adopted, using existing criteria, standards and performance measures.

Other respondents welcomed a supportive role for HMIe in the inspection of ITE programmes, but were keen to see participation from appropriately experienced Higher Education professionals with sector-specific knowledge in the process, for example, having an ITE representative co-opted onto the inspection team for each Higher Education Institute (HEI). It was felt this would be necessary to ensure contextual factors were taken into consideration in any inspection work carried out.

Where inspection of ITE by HMIe was supported, this was again seen as vital in ensuring that teacher training programs are rigorous, up-to-date, and reflective of best pedagogical practices. It was felt that inspections of ITE should also extend beyond academic knowledge to include practical training, enhancing capabilities of probationer teachers, fostering effective classroom management, and incorporating diverse teaching methodologies. Overall, for those who supported HMIe inspection of ITE, this was mainly because it would assist in programme development and in ensuring the future teaching population was fit for purpose:

“Continuous evaluation and feedback mechanisms are essential to refining teacher education programs and preparing educators for the complexities of modern classrooms.” (Post School Sector/College/University)

Overall, however, the dominant view in relation to ITE was that any ‘new’ inspection system would need to support existing internal and external quality assurance processes and scrutiny mechanisms for this sector.

Early Learning and Childcare

There was strong agreement that inspecting early learning and childcare (ELC) settings was important since these environments provided a strong foundation for children's education. In ELC settings, it was suggested that inspections should prioritise assessing the quality of care, the development of age-appropriate learning activities, and the provision of safe and inclusive environments.

However, it was again stressed across responses (both here and throughout the consultation) that there must be no duplication of inspection for ELC settings between HMIe and the Care Inspectorate (both of whom currently have a role), since having a dual system of inspection was overly burdensome:

“[Organisation] remains of the view that a single body should be established for the inspection of early learning and childcare… A single body would be the most effective way to overcome the pressures, workload and burdens that many in the sector experience under the current system and indeed the proposed new shared inspection framework.” (Local Authority)

Event participants also discussed the need to avoid overlap/duplication between inspectorates/inspection duties, and between HMIe and the Care Inspectorate in particular (although this was also relevant for HMIe and local authorities). These respondents felt it would be important to ensure the system is clear and understood by all, including providing clear roles and responsibilities to avoid such issues.

Indeed, the dominant view in relation to ELC settings was that the current system of dual inspection must change. Several respondents also pointed towards the parallel consultation on the quality framework for ELC, noting that they had separately responded to it, outlining their concerns regarding both the existing system and proposed new system for inspection ELC.

Modern Apprenticeships

Few respondents commented specifically on the role of HMIe in the inspection of modern apprenticeships. Among those who did, discussions were largely focused on what the purpose of such inspections should be and how they should be carried out, rather than outlining their views on the general principle of whether the new inspectorate should have a role in the sector or not.

One common concern, however, was the need to avoid modern apprenticeships being audited or inspected by two separate bodies, for example, SDS, the SQA and HMIe. Respondents again stressed that it would be important that learning was taken from the experiences of SDS/Education Scotland joint Modern Apprenticeship reviews to ensure duplication is avoided and the responsibility and purpose of different agencies is clear.

A very small number of respondents indicated that they were not sure if there was a role for HMIe within modern apprenticeships, and that alternative bodies or approaches may be required for apprenticeships that have industry body requirements and links. A small number commented that inspections in this sector would be ‘difficult’.

Other Comments

A small number of respondents repeated earlier comments that inspections should be limited to/prioritised for school environments only. Some reiterated that there should also be accountability for the inspectorate itself. Several respondents again expressed their disproval of inspections per se. They argued that the process was challenging, stressful and damaging to the mental health of those being inspected, and that a more supportive approach to improvement was needed.

Maximising the Impact of Education Inspection

The consultation document set out three priorities to improve the operation and impact of inspection in the education system, these being to:

1. Ensure that children, young people, adult learners, parents/carers, teachers and other practitioners, as well as the public, have confidence in the work of the inspectorate of education.

2. Ensure the involvement of teachers and other practitioners, children, pupils and students, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections.

3. Ensure inspection evidence is being fully utilised to: (a) provide assurance and public accountability; (b) drive improvement and build capacity; and (c) inform practice and policy.

Q9: Do you agree or disagree with the priorities set out? Is there anything in addition that you would like to see inspection cover?

Again, around two thirds of respondents (67%, n=259) agreed with the priorities set out in the consultation paper.

Number Percent Valid Percent
Agree 259 67% 87%
Disagree 38 10% 13%
Sub-Total (Answered Qu) 297
Not Answered 89 23%
Total 386

While most comments reflected general support of the priorities (in line with the purposes set), several specifically commented on the perceived positive value of Priority 2 (i.e. ensuring the involvement of teachers and other practitioners, children, pupils and students, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections):

“By reforming inspection we have an opportunity to better engage or involve everyone who has a role in education inspection. This includes teachers, as well as children, young people, adult learners and parents and carers… The inspectorate’s decision-making must not be unduly influenced by those it inspects. However, we should always ensure their perspectives are considered in the way in which inspection is carried out and overseen.” (Local Authority)

A commitment to involving children, young people, parents and carers was seen as particularly important in securing confidence in the work of the inspectorate (i.e. achieving Priority 2 would support the delivery of Priority 1). However, event participants felt that more details were needed regarding how pupils and parents would be encouraged to engage with inspections.

A supportive and collaborative way forward for inspections was also seen as the only way that genuine improvements to the existing system could be made:

“A more collaborative, capacity building approach which can support teachers and school leaders is required. The current model and approach can cause much stress to those involved and at times the perceived lack of consistency in the various judgements is not an uncommon criticism.” (Post School Sector/College/University)

Several respondents urged a greater focus on a more collaborative approach to self-evaluation and scrutiny (including inclusion of senior leadership team members in the school inspection process and greater involvement of Associate Assessors):

“The crucial element, and a significant oversight, lies in the acknowledgment that Scotland's education system has the potential for enhanced self-evaluation of its performance in delivering education. A primary focus of the inspectorate must be directed towards building capacity, validating system-wide quality improvement activities. Without this emphasis, the inspectorate itself may lack the necessary capacity to effectively achieve the three identified priorities.” (Local Authority)

Several of those who indicated agreement with the priorities also noted that they felt all three were quite generic and could already be evidenced in the existing inspection model, rather than being ‘new’ or ‘aspirational’ for any new inspectorate. Similarly, there were comments that the priority around ‘confidence in the work of the inspectorate of education’ was potentially redundant with several respondents suggesting that this should be a natural expectation of any public body.

Where respondents disagreed with the priorities or offered less robust support, this was mainly because of the way that the priorities were phrased. Some of the terminology was perceived as undermining the collaborative and supportive approach that was desired, e.g. in relation to driving improvement and building capacity. This was seen to reinforce the view that inspectors alone force improvement and that teachers and schools are ‘forced’ to improve (i.e. top-down language of driving improvement).

Stressing the importance of ‘impact’ and ‘evidence’ was also criticised unless a wider, less academic and less politically influenced view of success was adopted, i.e. one which avoids narrow attainment measures and instead focuses on the wider needs of pupils/students, and which considers success in context and over the long term. The removal of grading and scoring was encouraged in any inspection model.

Others again highlighted that ‘accountability’ had negative connotations and should never be the focus of an inspection (with the inspection process being perceived as being too heavily based on scrutiny):

“The focus should be on quality of education, rather than accountability. There is no point in transparency if education is failing in every aspect.” (Individual)

“Inspection is very much still a process that happens ‘to’ schools. While we welcome the ambition to bring learners, practitioners and other stakeholders into the process, we nevertheless question the ongoing use of the language of ‘accountability’ - this frames the narrative as a ‘them and us’ one which we feel it would be beneficial to move away from.” (Third Sector)

There were also more general comments that accountability should receive less weighting in the priorities overall:

“Supporting improvement, capacity building and informing practice should be prioritised before accountability. The published order is indicative of over-emphasis on the accountability aspect of inspections.” (Local Authority)

Overall, the wording of the priorities should reflect a more collegiate and collaborative approach it was stressed, and have more of a focus on delivery of quality education:

“These seem to be priorities for government rather than priorities for children, young people and their families.” (Individual)

Across all respondents, suggestions for additional priorities were relatively scarce with several respondents instead commenting again on how they would like to see inspections implemented/what they would like inspections to cover. The few comments which may relate to updating the proposed priorities, however, included:

  • the main priority should be delivery of quality education/upholding educational standards;
  • ensuring continual development by identifying and sharing of good practice within the sector should be prioritised;
  • the priorities should reflect the increased partnership working between the inspectorate and local government in recent years, including the Collaborative Improvement model; and
  • the inspectorate must also prioritise the identification of best practice and how it can be applied in other contexts.

A more general comment was also made that the priorities should include an emphasis on equality, rights and the everyday culture of education settings.

A few respondents suggested specific wording changes, although each was typically only suggested by one or two respondents each: Suggestions included:

  • that the first priority should also include reference to ‘understanding’; i.e. the various stakeholders should ‘understand and have confidence in the work of the inspectorate of education’. (Indeed, it was suggested that an additional priority should be the inspectorate making itself more publicly known, accessible and available to parents and families. Including reference to 'teaching unions' in this priority was also suggested);
  • that the second priority should also reference colleges, i.e. involvement of…‘colleges and other providers in inspections’ and that it could also include reference to self-evaluation, reflection and development as part of the journey to improvement. It was also suggested that the priority should read ‘meaningful, rights-based involvement’; and
  • that for the third priority, the order should be changed to (a) drive improvement and build capacity; (b) provide assurance and public accountability; and (c) inform practice and policy. It was also suggested that a fourth sub-bullet could be added to “improve outcomes for children and young people”, which it was recommended should be inserted at the start of the list.

A small number of respondents suggested that local communities, community groups and organisations should be included in the priorities, as well as destination partners such as regional employers, colleges and universities (although respondents did not specify how).

Greater clarity was also sought in relation to specific priorities. For example, for Priority 1, it was suggested that it would be useful to explore in more detail what ‘confidence’ might look like for the stakeholders listed which could, in turn, provide more clarity around the purposes of inspection. More clarity around what was meant by ‘driving improvement and building capacity’ was also requested. Some also noted that they would have welcomed more detail on how the priorities would be implemented and how they would affect the existing regulatory environment.

A caveat was also raised that, while involving teachers and other professionals in the inspection process as a priority was very much welcomed, this involvement alone would not adequately support teachers in the way that they needed. Instead, fuller consideration and detail was requested as to how the ambition of better support for teachers would be achieved.

Several respondents also noted that, while they agreed with the need to fully utilise evidence, robust data sharing mechanisms would be needed (an issue also discussed in events), and these would need to be transparent and all evidence clear/accessible. There was also a need to ensure that inspection evidence was being used in appropriate ways and was not used instrumentally:

“In addition, the range and quality of evidence has to be transparent and provide evidence about what we want to measure, rather than what is easy to measure. The inspection protocols should allow those inspected establishment to show themselves at their best and not being constrained by the evidence required.” (Post School Sector/College/University)

Others again used this question to assert their disagreement with inspection per se and/or to advance views that self-assessment was a more valid and effective approach to improvement. Finally, comments were again made that it was important for the inspection process to be directly related to the outcomes for children and young people themselves, not just the improvement of the system.

Addressing the Priority Issues

The final section of the consultation paper sought views on different ways the priorities outlined at Q9 could be achieved - either through new legislation or through alternative options within current legislation. Each of the three priorities was the focus of the final three consultation questions.

Q10: Do you have a view on these options for establishing the new approach to inspection?

Respondents were asked for their views on how Priority 1 (detailed at Q9 above) could best be achieved moving forwards. Specifically feedback was sought on whether:

1. to remove the inspection function from Education Scotland to create a distinct and separate executive agency without requiring new legislation. The inspectorate would remain directly accountable to Scottish Ministers; or

2. to take forward legislation to establish the role of ‘HM Chief Inspector of Education for Scotland’ in law as an independent office-holder. In this situation the HM Chief Inspector could have primary responsibility for setting the schedule, frequency and focus for inspections, as opposed to this power remaining under the legislative control of Scottish Ministers.

Responses to this question were very mixed with no clear themes emerging and several respondents commenting on what they perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses of both options (as well as positing alternative options) rather than expressing a clear preference for either approach. Some also interpreted this question to be a choice between options while others understood it to mean that both options could/would be implemented concurrently. Similarly, here and at later questions, event participants sought clarity over the differences between and consequences of implementing changes in legislation or not via legislation, and whether the options were mutually exclusive or could be combined.

Option 1: New Executive Agency

Many respondents stated that they agreed with the formation of an independent agency, separate from Education Scotland and guided by stakeholder voice and current emerging research, mainly because this approach would maintain the autonomy of the inspection process and address historical concerns around impartiality:

“Establishing the inspectorate as an independent body is imperative to address this issue and ensure that it can carry out its functions with autonomy and objectivity. This move is crucial for restoring confidence in the inspection process and ensuring that evaluations are conducted without any undue influence, ultimately contributing to a more robust and trustworthy education inspection system.” (Individual)

"Creating a distinct executive agency would remove the potential for conflicts of interest and would ensure that the function of the agency would be more clearly defined.” (Post School Sector/College/ University)

While this option was seen as more radical, it was also seen as necessary to help avoid potential conflicts of interest between development, improvement and evaluation functions, as was characteristic of the current system.

For those who supported this option, comments were made that, while not requiring legislation, clear governance structures should be put in place to oversee and guide the new executive agency's operations. Similarly, it was felt that while the agency would be independent of Education Scotland, collaboration and sharing of intelligence between the two would still be necessary and appropriate to ensure that the whole system remained joined up. This included, for example, inspectors maintaining a high level of awareness of the quality models and practices that Education Scotland were providing or could provide to schools:

“If there are two organisations working in the areas of inspection and education improvement, there needs to be certainty among key stakeholders that there is a shared purpose and shared set of priorities.” (Local Authority)

For some who agreed with a separate body, there were also questions around how/ who would provide advice and support to teachers - i.e. Education Scotland or the new inspectorate.

Some supporters of a new executive agency warned that the size and scale of the organisation would depend on the level of collaboration with local authorities and argued for: greater use of local authority approaches to quality assurance; using local authority intelligence to determine schools for inspection by the independent body; use of a wider range of Associate Assessors; and a greater role for local authority officers in the inspection process.

Consistent with comments about the NQB, a small number who supported the creation of a new inspection agency stressed that it must be staffed by ‘new’ or ‘fresh’ personnel, with suggestions that moving staff from the old inspectorate to a new agency would risk undermining any new approach. Similarly, some felt that creating a new inspectorate would not fix existing problems in the system, unless the more fundamental issues raised in the Muir Report were also addressed:

“Unless the concerns that were raised in the Muir report are actively addressed (such as the impartiality of the inspectorate), they are likely to persist despite the replacement of Education Scotland in either option. The processes themselves need to be trusted by learners, teaching professionals and other stakeholders and the inspectorate must be fully independent so that it can evaluate the impact, implementation of approaches and the quality of education.” (Third Sector)

Some who disagreed with the creation of a new inspectorate indicated that they felt this would not achieve the ‘independence’ from government that stakeholders wanted to see:

“The inspectorate under this model would remain directly accountable to and funded by the Scottish Government… this would dilute the independence of the new body, further the perception that the Scottish Government is seeking to maintain arms-length control over the inspection function and would do little to affect the culture change which is so urgently needed to the inspection and scrutiny process...” (Trade Union/Professional Representative Body)

The other main arguments given against this proposal were that having yet another organisation involved in education and scrutiny may add to existing bureaucracy and be just another organisation that schools have to defer to. Respondents also pointed towards the risks of separating out inspection and support agencies in case they developed in different directions/became disjointed (i.e. divergent thinking), with views that maintaining an integrated scrutiny and support body would help to keep messaging consistent.

Option 2: Independent Office Holder

Among those who supported the appointment of an independent office-holder, many commented that it would make accountability and independence more obvious and more stringent which, in turn, could maximise public and professional confidence in the inspection process:

“[Organisation] leans towards favouring the establishment of the HM Chief Inspector of Education as an independent office holder enshrined in law. The reason for this preference is rooted in the desire to mitigate the politicisation of education in Scotland. We believe that by establishing the Chief Inspector as an independent office holder, we can contribute to removing undue political influence and create a more stable and impartial environment for educational inspection.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

Several others agreed that the appointment would also lead to greater clarity around exactly who was responsible for setting the schedule, frequency and focus for inspections.

It was also suggested that having an independent office holder would give parity to education with other sectors, i.e. having a Chief Education Officer, akin to the current roles of Chief Medical Officer and Chief Nursing Officer. It was felt that this would demonstrate that the education sector was valued equally in relation to other key public services.

Again, those who supported this approach urged for the legislation to be very clear and thorough. It was felt this should set out its applicability to “all educators and learners” to ensure parity, for the role to be clearly defined, and detail how engagement with stakeholders would/should be taken forward.

Specific suggestions were made that checks and balances should be in place to ensure that the individual appointed had adequate competence on issues of equality and rights, and that the legislation had an explicit commitment to protect and promote the rights of the child enshrined in the UNCRC. It was also stressed that the individual appointed needed to be aware of the unique needs of GME.

Among those who disagreed with this option, concerns were mainly linked to how a single office holder might be regulated or held to account. There were also concerns that any legislative changes may actually add another level of complexity to the existing system and act as a barrier to progress. Specifically, it was felt that there could be ambiguity around accountability:

“This should be achievable without an independent office-holder enshrined in law, which may actually create barriers and questions, such as to whom such a person would be answerable and accountable.” (Local Authority)

Suggestions were also made that it may be beneficial, in order to ensure a focus on improvement, if there was increased partnership with other stakeholders, including local authorities, in setting the schedule, frequency and focus for inspections. Similarly, there was support for the office holder to be supported and directed by an Advisory Body which should also have legislative standing, and be representative of key stakeholders as well as independent members (discussed more in response to later questions).

A very small number of respondents noted that there may be risks with having a single individual heading up inspections and/or investing the role in an individual. This was based mainly on perceptions that similar such roles had not proved effective and/or that it introduced a greater potential for bias:

“…investing these powers in an individual can see certain issues sidelined because that individual isn't interested or has a vested interest in them not being looked at, and certain issues raised up for special attention because of the personal concerns in the individual in office. While these things can happen with a less personalised, more devolved institutional approach, the chances are that a more holistic approach would be taken where one individual is not a figurehead.” (Individual)

Some disagreed with a single role because they felt it may not instil public and stakeholder confidence in the inspection process, again, particularly around accountability. A common view was also that, if a Chief Inspector were to be appointed, this should not be a political appointment - political independence was stressed as key.

As noted above, some respondents interpreted this question to be a choice between the two options set out, while others understood it to mean that both options could/would be implemented concurrently. Several supported a combined approach - i.e. separating the inspection function from Education Scotland to a new executive agency, and using legislation to create a HM Chief Inspector to be in charge of this agency to ensure its independence from government (while this was the intention of proposal Option 2, this was not always clear to respondents).

Some respondents proposed direct alternatives to the options set out, albeit that most focused on the practicalities of carrying out inspections (and as such are covered in the following chapter). The only suggestion that had more direct relevance was Education Scotland retaining its inspection function but becoming completely independent from government.

Other Comments

Several respondents offered more general comments which were varied in scope.

Some asserted that accompanying the new approach to inspection should be robust legislation in terms of duties, for example, around reporting, impartiality and accountability. Others, meanwhile, felt there was no need for new legislation with regards to inspections and that it should be possible to achieve much of what was being proposed without lengthy and complex legislative change (which in itself may have unintended consequences):

“By its nature a legislative approach is time consuming to undertake and would likely result in broad provisions being set out to avoid constraining the new inspectorate in the face of as yet unforeseen circumstances. A non-legislative approach could be enacted and adapted much more swiftly to take account of changing circumstances, system priorities and budgetary pressures (or opportunities) arising.” (Trade Union/Professional Representative Body)

“I strongly object to the creation of legislation to set up an inspectorate separate from the education system. It can only breed animosity, antagonism, and complexity… Any perceived benefit from total independence would be lost in antipathy, mistrust and unnecessary and adversarial processes.” (Individual)

Event participants were similarly split regarding whether legislation was required (here and more generally regarding the new inspectorate). While some were supportive of legislation as it could provide greater budget security, others felt legislation may not be necessary, noting that progress had and could be made without it, or that this could lead to more bureaucracy and delays.

If new legislation was introduced, some respondents urged that this should undergo consultation with all relevant stakeholders.

Some caveated their support by reiterating that any inspection approach must be collaborative, context specific, supportive, honest and fair. It must also be taken forward without incurring excessive cost, it was suggested.

In the main, there was also strong support that whatever approach was adopted, the new agencies/new office holder must have a degree of independence from government. Only a very small number of responses indicated that they did not feel the inspectorate should be completely independent and/or that responsibility should not be taken away from Ministers, mainly on the basis that they questioned the competency of inspectors and their recent relevant establishment-based experience.

Some again noted that they did not agree with the principles of ‘inspection’ per se and felt that this was a ‘top-down’ and outdated approach which should be replaced by self-assessment.

Finally, some respondents noted that they required more information to be able to consider the proposals more carefully, especially as they related to different sectors (for example, it was not clear what the implications of either approach might be for teacher education and universities). Another view was offered that, without a clear explanation of what the issues are with the current provision, it was hard to understand why any changes were needed at all.

Q11: Do you have a view on how governance arrangements for the inspectorate could be developed to better involve providers, including teachers and other practitioners, pupils and students and parents/carers in inspection?

In relation to Priority 2 (i.e. to ‘ensure the involvement of teachers and other practitioners, children, pupils and students, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections’) respondents were asked if they had a view on how governance arrangements for the inspectorate could be developed to better involve providers in inspection.

Options outlined in the consultation included that new measures to strengthen governance and the voices of those involved in inspection could be considered within the current arrangements (for example, by setting up a user focused advisory council). Alternatively, this could be achieved through legislation, it was posited, by requiring the Chief Inspector, as an independent office-holder set up by legislation, to establish an advisory council, with membership drawn from those likely to be affected by the Chief Inspector’s work. It could also place a legislative duty on the Chief Inspector to have regard to any advice provided by the Council and, where advice was not followed, to set out the reasons why.

As with Q10 there were different interpretations of this question. Several respondents assumed they were being asked to express a preference for either of the two options, some offered new or alternative views on governance arrangements, while others interpreted the question to relate more to the principle of involving various stakeholders in the inspection process rather than in the new agency’s governance arrangements.

Despite some ambiguity in responses, overall, there was strong support for involving all of the listed stakeholders in both the inspection process and governance arrangements to ensure that stakeholder voices were taken on board. Involvement of stakeholders was also seen as the best way to guarantee impartiality and responsiveness of inspections and to instil stakeholder trust in the inspection process:

“All stakeholders, teachers, students and parents should be involved in governance arrangements for inspections, including the purpose of inspection and the operational processes involved. This would make the processes more transparent and could remove some of the professional self-doubt that inspections can create, whilst not detracting from the vital work of the inspectorate. The establishment of an Advisory Council whose members are stakeholders in the process would be welcomed.” (Post School Sector/College/University)


The involvement of teachers and head teachers in governance arrangements and inspections was particularly welcomed (both by those who provided written responses and those who attended events) as it would allow for their expertise to feed directly into the process:

“We would strongly advocate for a more prominent role for existing headteachers in the governance arrangements of the inspectorate. As individuals on the frontline of education, headteachers possess valuable insights and practical knowledge that could significantly contribute to the development and improvement of the inspection process. Their inclusion in governance arrangements would ensure that the perspectives of those directly involved in managing and leading educational establishments are integral to decision-making.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

It would also be helpful to include representation from teaching professional associations and ITE providers/students to ensure the views of student teachers were included in improvement, it was suggested. While involving teachers was seen as essential, the way that teachers were appointed to any governance role must be fair and transparent, it was felt, as well as their membership of any council not being tokenistic.

Pupils and Students/Children and Young People

The voices of pupils and students were also welcomed on any advisory council (as well as having a more active role in inspections), and this was especially true at the tertiary level. While engaging pupils and students was seen as particularly important, however, it was noted that their involvement may require additional support (including financial support) to enable meaningful participation:

“[Organisation] would encourage the Scottish Government to include learner’s voices in the governance of the new education inspectorate… Learners who become governors or committee members should receive a full induction and training in committee skills to enable them to effectively contribute to the work of the organisation. They should also be given a named person as a point of contact to support them in their role. We also believe that they would benefit from pre-meeting preparation to help them understand the papers and content of meetings they are being asked to contribute to.” (Representing parents/carers and/or children and young people)

Again, respondents urged that involvement of children and young people must never be tokenistic and felt that very clear policies and practices should be set out for how their input would be considered:

“…simply having young people in the room would not equate to the meaningful participation of young people in decision-making. Scottish Government should consider in these plans how they will account for giving the views of young people due weight in decisions taken as part of the inspectorate function, regardless of which of the two options is taken forward.” (Representing parents/carers and/or children and young people)

Some respondents noted that specific thought and planning would also be required regarding how the experiences of children and young people with additional support needs would be captured/reflected.

Parents and Carers

There were slightly mixed views on whether parents and carers needed to be involved in governance. Some felt their level of involvement in inspections was already proportionate, while a small number suggested that parents/carers should have a more clearly defined input.

Where parents and pupils/students were involved it was felt that this should be at the local rather than national level in order to maximise effectiveness.

While generally supportive of involving teachers, pupils/students and parents/carers in the governance arrangements of the new inspectorate, event respondents sought further detail about how they would be empowered in decision making.


While the views of teachers, pupils/students and parents/carers were all highlighted as being particularly important to be represented in inspections and governance, it was also noted by some that the views of different stakeholders may be quite diverse. It was suggested that having separate advisory ‘groups’ rather than a single advisory council may, therefore, be more appropriate:

“It may be that separate advisory boards for teachers, parents and carers, and pupils would be more useful as it is likely there will be different views from all three. It would then be the job of the organisation to synthesise all these views into a coherent whole.” (Individual)

It was also suggested that forming advisory groups tailored to specific education sectors (e.g. primary, secondary, further/higher education, community learning and development) may be useful to ensure that the unique needs and challenges of each were adequately addressed.

Collectively, respondents expressed a preference for any advisory committee to be broad in its representation, including representatives from groups facing inequalities and social disadvantage, as well as representatives from different sectors:

“Greater involvement of key stakeholders is welcomed. This should be carefully considered in terms of representation and function regarding decision making and/or consultation. The representation should be broad across the country and ensure it captures a wide demographic.” (Local Authority)

Involving individuals from different generations was also seen as beneficial to ensure that the inspectorate could benefit from a broader range of insights, leading to more informed and balanced evaluations.

Several respondents also encouraged wider representation in any governance arrangements and committees. This included representation from employers and different vocational sectors; trade unions; the GME sector; support for learning practitioners; third sector organisations, especially those working with young carers and other children and young people nationally; and other community members (although there were no specific suggestions for whom).

In addition to being representative, the need for fair and transparent selection mechanisms for the advisory council was also stressed:

“Implement a transparent and inclusive process for selecting members of the Advisory Council. Consider open nominations, ensuring that the selection process is fair, unbiased, and free from undue influence. Members should be chosen based on their expertise, experience, and commitment to improving education.” (Post School Sector/College/University)

Some caveated their support by suggesting that representation/input from stakeholders must be proportionate and reflective of those involved and impacted by the process but balanced with maintaining the integrity of the process. It was also suggested that it would be useful for anyone involved in governance to have a clear induction and training, so that they understand their position on an inspectorate and what a conflict of interest could be.

Legislative Footing

Views as to whether an advisory council should be legislated for or not were less clear. Some again felt that a legislative footing would give the role and authority of the advisory council and the Inspector a more robust standing:

“Our view is that the legislative option requiring the Chief Inspector to establish an Advisory Council, with representative membership, is the optimum way forward. The legislative duty to have regard to advice provided by the Council, retaining some flexibility in selectivity, will strengthen the Chief Inspector’s traction in his role, and hence the collective authority of the inspectorate.” (Third Sector)

Others felt that placing the advisory committee on a statutory footing was overly bureaucratic:

“[Organisation] does not favour the establishment of a statutory Advisory Council. The legislative route may narrow the range of opinions heard and taken account of to those appointed to the Advisory Council, and lead to an overly bureaucratic approach to involvement of stakeholders.” (Local Authority)

If membership was set out within legislation, it was encouraged that representatives of local government should be prescribed as members of any advisory council. Governance arrangements for the new education inspectorate must also reflect Scotland's current and continually evolving legislative landscape, it was suggested.

A small number of respondents noted that they did not feel sufficiently knowledgeable regarding the legislative process to be able to offer a reliable view about its suitability in this context.

Alternative Models

Respondents also set out a range of alternative or additional governance arrangements (most offered by just one or two respondents each), including:

  • having an ‘oversight group’ instead of a ‘governance group’;
  • establishing stakeholder ‘forums’ instead of committees;
  • including professional associations in the composition of the Board;
  • using secondments to ensure school staff are included on boards;
  • local authority advisory sub-groups to feed into the work of the national advisory council; and
  • having the same advisory committee structure as proposed for the NQB.

Lack of Support for Proposals

A small number of respondents disagreed with the need for an Advisory Council, especially one which included pupils and students. It was felt that pupils and students could still have a direct line to the new inspectorate without the need for them to have governance responsibilities; that having such a role may distract from their learning; and that they would lack the relevant experience. Others felt that the various stakeholders were already engaged in a formal way during inspections, and that change was therefore not needed, or felt that governance of inspection should be reserved for Scottish Ministers.

A more general view was given that ‘service users’ should not be part of the inspection or governance process as their views may be biased, and their involvement may lead to evaluative decisions that were not adequately informed/ evidence based (especially given the complexity of the education system).

Conversely, a small number of respondents felt that the options presented were limited and did not go far enough:

“It is disappointing that the consultation proposes a very limited model of stakeholder engagement through the creation of an Advisory Council. We do not believe that this provides meaningful engagement in the governance of the new body. Although a legislative duty could be placed on the Chief Inspector requiring them ‘to have regard to’ any advice provided by the Council, it is clear that the Chief Inspector would not be obliged to follow the advice given… We would suggest a governance model, similar to that of GTCS Council, which is truly independent of government and includes representation from teachers and other stakeholders in the governance arrangements.” (Trade union/professional representative body)

A few respondents indicated that they found this question difficult to understand, as written, and some felt that they needed more information on the proposals before being able to offer an informed response (including clarity regarding what was meant by ‘governance’ and whether this would be bottom-up or top-down, as well as what was meant by ‘involvement’ as this cannot be measured as an objective assessment). Others again used this question to reiterate their disaproval for inspections per se.

Q12: Do you have a view on how the Scottish Government make sure evidence from inspections is being used as fully as possible to drive improvement and inform policy, and on who the inspectorate should report to?

Finally, respondents were asked to provide feedback on the third priority area (i.e. to ‘Ensure inspection evidence is being fully utilised to: (a) provide assurance and public accountability; (b) drive improvement and build capacity; and (c) inform practice and policy’) and how this could best be achieved. Options for reporting structures and mechanisms were set out, as follows:

1. Strengthening reporting without the need for legislation. Ministers could set an expectation that the inspectorate publish a range of documents, and include a specific requirement to report regularly on the overall performance of Scottish education, providing an overall view across the education system to inform Ministers, Parliament, providers and the wider public; or

2. The same requirement for reporting could be set out in legislation. The Chief Inspector (established in legislation), could be required to report annually on the carrying out of their functions and the performance of Scottish education. Legislation could also include a duty on the Chief Inspector to publish individual inspection reports.

Again, a wide range of responses were provided at this question, often taking a broader approach to the question than focusing on the two reporting options set out. This included identification and discussion of very specific reporting (and evidence/data gathering) topics/areas which might be useful, discussion of the types of reporting (and inspection methods) that would be beneficial, and methods for collecting data and feedback. While many indicated support for formal reporting structures to be in place, far fewer indicated their preferences related to the use of legislation in this regard.

Annual Reporting

General support was expressed for the use of annual reports to monitor the inspectorate’s work and to provide an overall view on performance across the Scottish education system. It was felt this report should include an overview of the inspectorate’s activities, budgeting, any key findings in relation to inspections and education generally/at the national/system level, and information about how they are supporting schools/establishments to improve - and should cover both GME and English language sectors. It was noted that information could be difficult to access currently and so a mechanism was required to ensure greater transparency and information sharing:

“An annual report synthesising the main themes from inspections across the country, as well as in each local authority. At present some of this knowledge can be hard to come by/feels privileged. There needs to be transparency around this.” (Individual)

It was stressed, however, that the annual report needed to be supported by other regular reporting, including inspection findings, thematic inspection reports, annual inspection audit reports, Summary of Inspection Findings (SIF), policy papers, etc. It was also suggested by several respondents that report versions should be tailored for different audiences (e.g. local authorities and education providers, parents/carers, lay readers/the general public, child friendly versions, and translated into Gaelic and BSL):

“Reports of different levels should go to authority (education), parents, and general public to allow evidence to be shared without concern over undue pressure.” (Individual)

“Consideration of the format of reports, to ensure they are focused on action for improvement which can be applied by schools and authorities is necessary. Reports to education authorities and schools should focus on improvement and how action for improvement can be applied across a range of similar situations. Reports for the public and parents/carers at a particular establishment may still require a more traditional evaluative approach focused on that establishment.” (Local Authority)

While it was felt that reporting should be publicly available, a few specifically suggested that a range of communication methods should be used to disseminate reports, including social media and websites. It was also suggested that the inspectorate should work with professional organisations and associations to communicate messages and disseminate findings.

Several respondents indicated alternative reporting lines - although it was not clear whether they were referring to inspection reports or higher level governance reporting. A few suggested the inspectorate should report to individual teachers, schools and local authorities, or Education Scotland/the Education Authority, while a range of other bodies were suggested by one respondent each, including Audit Scotland, the Chair of ADES, the GTCS, and teaching unions. Others suggested that reports should be made available more widely than just being submitted to the Scottish Government/Ministers, and that this should include reporting to children and young people/pupils and students:

“In order to create genuine improvement in the system, the inspectorate should not only inform their findings to both the Parliament and the Scottish Government, but also the other bodies such as new Education Scotland agency as well as the Centre for Teaching and Learning. That intel can be used to support tangible improvement based on a shared and agreed framework of what excellence in teaching and learning looks like.” (Individual)

“There is no mention of reporting to learners. This should be expected, as much as evaluative reports for parents/carers and the public.” (Representing parents/carers and/or children and young people)

Both those who provided written responses and those attending events also questioned who would be responsible for quality assuring the inspectorate and inspections to ensure consistency in approach.

Informing Practice and Policy

Respondents were generally in favour of inspection evidence being shared widely with schools/establishments, teachers, parents/carers, local authorities, and with Education Scotland representatives, as well as with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders. In particular, it was felt that the sharing of good practice could help to inform practice across all educational establishments and not just those being inspected.

There was a strong sense, however, that responsibility for using inspection evidence to improve practice should not lie with just one agency but, rather, needed to be shared between the inspectorate, educational establishments, teachers/ lecturers, pupils/students, local authorities, other public bodies, etc. A few also suggested that local authorities should have a responsibility for publishing information and evidence related to improvements, developments and successes.

Further, it was felt that inspection evidence could and should help to inform policy, but it was argued that a clear pathway needed to be established. It was also felt that care was needed in relation to how this was done, and that stakeholders may need to be more involved in shaping policy:

“Evidence used in such a way would need to be fully representative of Scottish education and cover the wide range of contexts, settings, challenges and opportunities that exist across the system for it to be truly reflective of practice in establishments.” (Local Authority)

Several respondents, however, felt that the current inspection methods and evidence gathered were not suitable for driving improvements. Evidence and feedback were described as being “formulaic”, of poor quality, “unhelpful”, and lacking detail. Rather, it was suggested that changes needed to be made to the inspection process first before evidence could be considered robust and useful.

Among those who were not supportive of inspection at all, at least not in its current format, it was suggested that inspections did not drive real improvement, but rather, had negative impacts. Respondents (including those who submitted written responses and event participants) suggested the proposals (here and elsewhere) maintained the current top-down inspection model, but that inspections needed to adopt a more supportive approach. This included the need for self-evaluation, peer working/support/evaluation, collaboration and collegiate discussions (including teachers/school staff, pupils and parents/carers), improvement oriented feedback and post-inspection support, that inspectors should demonstrate and model good practice, and the one-word grading structure should be removed:

“I'm not sure how evidence from inspections is useful. A 2 or 3 day snap shot is not enough evidence to say something is effective.” (Individual)

Others argued that, while evidence should inform policy or initiatives it should not drive inspection, improvement agendas or changes:

“National policy should be cognisant of evidence drawn from inspection reports but it is important that the inspectorate is independent of government control. Let the reality of and best practice identified in schools be the driver of change, not short-term political point scoring.” (Individual)

Legislative Requirements

While most respondents did not discuss the issue of legislation, several did make their views on the requirement for this clearer. On the whole, those who discussed legislation tended to be in favour of setting out reporting requirements in law. It was stressed that this would prevent future political interference. These respondents felt the inspectorate or Chief Inspector of Education should be fully accountable to the Scottish Parliament, and should be required/duty bound to provide annual reporting to the Scottish Parliament (or specifically to the Education Committee), as this was felt to offer the most independent approach. While a few suggested the inspectorate should report to the Scottish Government or Scottish Ministers, this was preferred by less respondents than reporting to Parliament, and was actively discouraged by others. Statutory reporting was considered necessary in order to provide consistency, transparency, accountability and oversight/scrutiny:

“[Organisation] supports the proposed approach for the inspectorate to report on the overall performance of Scottish education. This reporting would provide valuable insights for all stakeholders... Additionally, legislating the reporting requirements for the Chief Inspector can ensure consistency and accountability. Annual reports on the inspectorate's functions and the broader performance of Scottish education would enhance public trust and provide a clear benchmark for educational standards and improvements.” (Industry/Private Sector)

It was also suggested that the legal responsibility around reporting should be shared with partners, so that those with a statutory requirement to secure improvement should develop action plans designed to respond to inspection findings and deliver improvements in practice. Further, it was noted that close links and joint working would be needed between any new inspectorate, the new curriculum/improvement body (or remaining parts of Education Scotland), and government in order to ensure inspection drives improvement and informs policy:

“In the interests of maintaining the independence and reliability of the inspection body, it may be the most effective approach for it to separately report to government for the purposes of policy making and to report to the national agency for driving improvement, with a feedback loop back to the inspectorate. Carefully defined and clearly executed remits and responsibilities will be essential for the three sides of this triangle to function well.” (Local Authority)

Other Issues

A few other issues were also discussed by small numbers of respondents.

Terminology issues and a lack of detail around how the three priority elements would operate in practice, and how the requirements would be met, was again flagged by a few respondents. Similarly, respondents reiterated concern about the lack of detail in the consultation document about what the remaining part of Education Scotland would look like once the inspection function was separated (also a concern for event participants). Further, the lack of detail in relation to the role and collaborative opportunities for other organisations within education were also highlighted. It was felt that more information (and consultation) was required on these issues.

Event respondents also sought clarity on the purpose and reporting lines for the new inspectorate, how they would be held accountable, how they would be monitored, quality assured and supported to improve, and how independent they would be from government.

Again, a few respondents felt that the scope of the reforms did not represent a new approach or address the main issues in relation to inspection. There were also concerns that the proposals, and delivering public accountability, might not be enough to ensure that improvement is delivered.



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