School inspections set to hit new low

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of breaking a promise to increase scrutiny of schools, following a projection that inspections are on course to fall to a five-year low.

The first minister had said in January that the number of inspections was set to increase. However, new figures have predicted that the number of checks will in fact be reduced.

There are 107 inspections of primaries and secondaries due to be carried out in the present financial year, compared with 115 last year and as many as 189 as recently as 2013-14, according to figures supplied to Holyrood’s education committee.

Education Scotland, which is tasked with carrying out the inspections, said it remained committed to carrying out a significantly higher number of inspections in the years to come. However, the Scottish Conservatives said the quango had “failed to deliver”.

Liz Smith, the party’s education spokeswoman, said: “The first minister has to explain why this promise has been broken, and what she intends to do to address the issue.

“Inspections of primary and secondary schools are essential in ensuring standards are high and children are receiving the best possible education in a good environment for learning. The SNP clearly thinks otherwise.”

Education Scotland bosses are due to appear before Holyrood’s education committee tomorrow, amid concern from some quarters over the organisation’s performance. The government agency, which has responsibility for setting the curriculum as well as monitoring performance, was criticised by a majority of teachers who responded to a survey launched by the committee.

John Swinney, the education secretary, said it was important to listen to criticism but also emphasised the low proportion of the country’s 50,000 teachers who completed the survey.

Keir Bloomer, seen as one of the country’s foremost education experts, said the body needed an overhaul.

He said: “Education Scotland is Scotland’s fourth attempt to set up a curriculum agency. None of them have really had the confidence of teachers. There is a serious problem of leadership here, and a serious problem of how you carry through a major programme of reform. Scottish education simply has not got effective change mechanisms. It doesn’t know how to lead and it doesn’t know how to support.”

Scrutiny of Education Scotland follows criticism of the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Last week, the exam quango’s chief executive was accused by MSPs of “living in a parallel universe” after claiming to have a strong relationship with teachers despite scathing criticism from the profession.

An Education Scotland official said: “Education Scotland has committed to increasing inspections over the coming years and we are confident that we will deliver on this commitment. The reality is we will see no fall in the number of inspections this year and we will see a significant increase in 2017-18.

“The projections provided to the education committee were correct at the time they were collated, however, the exact number of inspections regularly change in-year as resources are redeployed.”