School Inspections

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th October 2017.

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Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

5. To ask the First Minister whether the Scottish Government will review the school inspection process. (S5F-01606)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

As I am sure Liz Smith is aware, earlier this week, Education Scotland announced a significant increase in school inspections—of more than 30 per cent in the school year beginning in April 2018. As a result, the number of school inspections will rise from 180 to 250 schools per year initially. That will strengthen the role of inspection as a crucial tool to support improvement. It is one of a range of improvement approaches announced by Education Scotland to enable it to reach every school, every year, through a variety of different channels.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

In November 2016, Education Scotland could not confirm to members of the Scottish Parliament who sit on the Education and Skills Committee whether school inspection numbers had gone up or down. At the same meeting, it could not confirm how many full-time inspectors there were for 2017. Last week, it was revealed that key elements of historical school inspection data had been deleted.

Will the First Minister accept that those are not the hallmarks that are required in order to inspire full trust in the administration of the inspection process? To that end, will she now agree with the Conservatives—and all the other Opposition parties—that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education’s inspection process should be fully independent of Education Scotland?

The First Minister:

We will introduce legislation on governance changes in education, and I am sure that such issues will continue to be debated. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has set out his view on that.

I know that the issues are not identical, but I remember that when I was Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing I faced a similar decision around the role of health inspectors. It is absolutely right that those who inspect our hospitals—like those who inspect our schools—are independent. However, it is important that we also have a link between inspection and improvement, which is what we risk being lost if we go down the route that Liz Smith proposes. Inspection is not there for its own sake; it is there to identify failings, or areas in which there needs to be improvement, and then to make sure that that improvement is made. That is why the statement around regional improvement collaboratives that the Deputy First Minister gave earlier this week is such an important part of our reform agenda.

Of course, we will continue to debate such issues in the chamber, but I hope that, whatever the eventual outcome of that particular debate, everyone will welcome this week’s announcement of the increase in inspections that I have just set out.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The extra inspections that were announced by Education Scotland will be helpful in supporting schools to work towards closing the attainment gap. However, the Scottish Government is only this week consulting on how it will measure that gap in progress. It has been two years since the First Minister told us that closing the gap was her top priority. Does she not think that two years to get round to thinking about what she means by the attainment gap is a little lethargic—to put it kindly?

The First Minister:

No. We have been getting on with putting in place the national improvement framework and introducing standardised assessments across the country that will inform the teacher judgment, which we will then publish as the percentage of young people meeting the required levels of curriculum for excellence. That will be, for the first time, a comprehensive and transparent indication not just of how our education system is performing nationally, but of how individual schools and local authorities are performing.

We have taken that action, but we have always said that there is no single measure that should be necessarily used to measure attainment. The consultation launched yesterday looks at a range of different measures to make sure that, as we continue to work to close the attainment gap, we do so in a way that respects and enhances the overall development of young people. That is what curriculum for excellence is all about.

Iain Gray’s characterisation is, not for the first time, not strictly accurate. We have been taking a series of steps not only to make sure that the money that we are putting through, for example, the pupil equity fund helps to close the attainment gap, but to make sure that measures are in place to record that and that there is a transparency that means that ministers and the wider system are completely accountable to Parliament and the public.