For­mal com­plaint lodged over damn­ing re­port into ed­u­ca­tion

The Oban Times - - News -

COUN­CIL­LORS have backed a for­mal com­plaint to Scot­land’s schools watch­dog fol­low­ing its damn­ing re­port of ed­u­ca­tion in Ar­gyll and Bute.

Af­ter its in­spec­tion in Septem­ber, Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land (ES) graded Ar­gyll and Bute ‘weak’ – sec­ond from the bot­tom in a six-point scale – in four ‘qual­ity in­di­ca­tors’: ‘lead­er­ship and di­rec­tion’, ‘lead­er­ship of change and im­prove­ment’, ‘im­prove­ment in per­for­mance’, and ‘de­liv­er­ing and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of ser­vices’.

The re­port, en­ti­tled Strate­gic In­spec­tion of the Ed­u­ca­tion Functions of Lo­cal Au­thor­i­ties, also marked it ‘sat­is­fac­tory’ in a fifth, ‘im­pact on chil­dren, young peo­ple, adult learn­ers and fam­i­lies’. How­ever, Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil eval­u­ated it­self ‘sat­is­fac­tory’ in all five.

The re­port stated that school-leavers’ ‘ at­tain­ment and progress in lit­er­acy and nu­mer- acy’ was lower than av­er­age, and ‘at­tain­ment in na­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions has de­clined’ also ‘be­low’ or ‘ well be­low’ av­er­age.

The coun­cil, in its re­sponse read by com­mu­nity ser­vices ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ann Marie Knowles to the Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on April 6, ac­knowl­edged the re­port pre­sented ‘very neg­a­tive eval­u­a­tions’ of its ‘ed­u­ca­tion pro­vi­sion’.

But she also voiced ‘se­ri­ous and sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns’ with the ‘process and con­duct’ of ES’s in­spec­tion, which are now the sub­ject of a for­mal com­plaint.

Specif­i­cally, the coun­cil cited the ‘un­usual’ tim­ing of ES’s no­ti­fi­ca­tion on June 28, ‘the day be­fore the start of the sum­mer hol­i­days’, an ‘ex­tra­or­di­nary lack of in­clu­sion of se­nior of­fi­cers’, and crit­i­cisms of ‘short no­tice’. Fur­ther­more, it said ES’s ‘re­vised set of qual­ity in­di­ca­tors’ were ‘not tested, con­sulted on or even pub­lished prior to their en­gage­ment with [the] coun­cil’.

‘The re­port ap­pears to fea­ture in­spec­tion grad­ings that are not based on ver­i­fied ev­i­dence,’ it added, and the in­spec­tion team did not in­clude any ‘ as­so­ciate in­spec­tors rou­tinely used to mod­er­ate from the per­spec­tive of cur­rent prac­ti­tion­ers’.

Cit­ing con­cerns and a ‘ large num­ber of fac­tual in­ac­cu­ra­cies’, the coun­cil’s chief ex­ec­u­tive re­quested ES de­lay the re­port’s pub­li­ca­tion on March 21, but ‘he was ad­vised it would be pub­lished be­cause ES had no rea­son not to’.

A spe­cial meet­ing of Ar­gyll and Bute coun­cil­lors was held at Kil­mory Cas­tle the fol­low­ing day to dis­cuss the re­port.

Coun­cil­lor Rory Colville, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy lead for ed­u­ca­tion and life­long learn­ing, pro­posed a mo­tion not­ing the re­port’s ‘pos­i­tive as­pects’, in­clud­ing above av­er­age at­ten­dance rates and num­bers of school-leavers mov­ing into em­ploy­ment, but also ‘se­ri­ous con­cerns raised by coun­cil of­fi­cers … regarding the process and con­duct of the in­spec­tion’. It also de­tailed an ac­tion plan to ad­dress the in­spec­tion’s con­clu­sions and a re­port on its suc­cess.

Leader of the op­po­si­tion SNP group Sandy Tay­lor tabled an amend­ment ask­ing coun­cil­lors to with­draw the for­mal com­plaint. How­ever, the mo­tion was car­ried by 17 votes to nine.

Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land, which promised to con­tinue sup­port­ing Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil, said: ‘HM In­spec­tors fol­lowed a rig­or­ous and ro­bust in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tion process. Ar­gyll and Bute Coun­cil had the op­por­tu­nity to com­ment on the draft re­port and to pro­vide any ad­di­tional ev­i­dence. How­ever, the fi­nal pub­lished re­port is the in­de­pen­dent eval­u­a­tion of HM In­spec­tors who are ap­pointed to carry out this statu­tory func­tion.’

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