So when Irene Hogg did not turn up at her tiny school after the Easter weekend, her colleagues realised something had to be seriously amiss.
Friends knew she had been upset by inspectors who had visited the previous week and picked her up on a few “silly” issues.
In the classrooms of the school in the Borders, where she had taught generations of youngsters who loved and respected her, concern began to grow – and the police were called in.
Officers went to the school on Wednesday and established that the spinster had last been seen near her home in Bowden, near Newtown St Boswells, on Easter Sunday evening. Their intervention came too late. A few hours later, the body of the 54-year-old was discovered near her abandoned car in the countryside, close to the hamlet of Hownam, near Jedburgh.
Last night, as the community struggled to come to terms with the loss of one of its integral members, a horrifying insight emerged into the potentially devastating effects of the pressure teachers endure.
A leading union chief described inspections as a “hard and aggressive regime” and said that a review was required if it had been a factor in Miss Hogg’s death.
Two female inspectors had arrived last week at her school, Glendinning Terrace Primary in Galashiels, and carried out a five-day assessment.
In the preceding weeks, Miss Hogg had been working overtime in preparation for the review, getting paperwork in order and ensuring the school was in top condition.
But it seems her well-meaning efforts were not enough.
Although HM Inspectorate of Education has not yet released the written report, saying it will be available “in due course”, protocol dictates that headteachers – who earn in excess of 40,000 – first receive a verbal briefing.
And it was that briefing which seems to have upset Miss Hogg and left her, in the words of a close friend, “disillusioned”.
The friend, who did not want to be named, said: “She had been worried about the inspection and had been working weekends in preparation for it happening.
“The inspectors were in for five days and she had been told verbally of some of the criticisms. They included silly things like why the wooded area at the back of the school was not used when everyone knows it is full of dog dirt, and that she would be reported to the council for not filling in a complaint form following a disciplinary issue.
“She was very disillusioned with the criticism she was getting in the inspection. Maybe she was getting near retirement, but it is all very sad, given the tremendous service she has given.”
Miss Hogg, a former ladies’ captain at the local golf club, was a relatively private woman who was not given to discussing personal issues. She did not appear to have any problems.
Education in the Borders had been her life – a former pupil of Hawick High School, she had settled into a job there following her teacher training.
It is not known how much the inspectors’ comments preyed on her mind. But at some point after they told her of the likely content of the report, it seems she got into her silver Peugeot 206 and drove out into the countryside.
Back at the school – which has only 81 pupils – prayers had been said for the safe return of the woman who had led them for ten years and worked among them for a further 23 years.
A community council representative said as officers searched for her: “We respect and care for Irene Hogg so much, and this is just so out of character. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that she turns up safe and well.”
Tragically, their prayers went unanswered.
On Wednesday evening, her car was discovered on a remote road in Roxburghshire. A search party was organised and her body was found lying close by.
At 2am yesterday, police arrived at the door of her elderly parents, Henry and Nancy, to deliver the devastating news.
Her 84-year-old mother said: “We cannot believe this has happened. It is so hard to take in.”
Miss Hogg’s cousin, Helen Dalgetty, who was also at the house in Melrose, said: “This has come as a huge shock to us. Irene loved her job and was very well-liked by everyone who knew her.
“We don’t know anything about the inspection or whether the report was a factor in this. But she was a very capable person, very organised and professional and very good at her job. There were no other problems in her life as far as I know, but she was a very private person. It does not make any sense to us at all.”
The dead woman’s brother, Roger, is flying back from Australia to be with the family.
Later, it was the turn of the pupils, for whom she had cared so deeply, to receive news of the tragedy. Many were picked up in tears by their parents. Floral tributes were placed at the entrance to the school, and parents and education officials praised her dedicated service.
Glenn Rodger, the director of education at Scottish Borders Council, visited the school and said: “Tragic is the only way I can describe this. It is a horrible set of circumstances. We have lost one of our most experienced, valuable and much-loved teachers. In what is proving a very difficult day for staff and pupils and parents, the word ‘love’ keeps coming through. She was so highly regarded.”
Patricia Thouw, chairwoman of the school council, said: “She was a real inspirational person. She will be greatly missed, not only by primary six and seven pupils who she taught but all the pupils and former pupils.”
A celebration of Miss Hogg’s life will take place at the school today, and a virtual book of condolence will allow colleagues and former pupils to share their memories. Messages and photographs can be sent to [email protected] and it will be available to view at www.scotborders.gov.uk/irenehogg
Hard, aggressive and hostile - how so many staff see the system
TEACHERS’ leaders last night warned of the stress inflicted on the profession by the “hard and aggressive regime” of school inspections, after the apparent suicide of headmistress Irene Hogg.
Miss Hogg is believed to have taken her own life following a negative report.
HM inspectors spent five days assessing her Glendinning Terrace Primary School in Galashiels.
A number of teachers south of the Border have taken their own lives following negative reports from Ofsted – the English equivalent of HMIE.
There are not believed to have been any equivalent cases in Scotland, but unions have claimed the system puts teachers under immense pressure, and they warned if the case of Miss Hogg was found to be linked to that stress, an urgent review was required.
Bill McGregor, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “In the profession, the very strong perception is that the inspection process is fairly aggressive and hostile.
“The inspectors will say, ‘We are there to be helpful’, but the perception is that it is not a pleasant experience – though in 40 years I have not heard of a case like this.
“If the inspection process has been a factor in this case then I would hope the Scottish Government and HM inspectors would take this on board and look at the methods, because the perception is that it’s a fairly hard and aggressive regime.”
Mr McGregor added: “The inspection we have is not necessarily fair because it equates apples and oranges in terms of schools across the country.”
The association’s general- secretary, David Eaglesham, said teachers generally became overly concerned about the visits and built them up, expecting the worst. But he said there was “a fairly high degree of confidence in the system”, with teachers believing it to be “fairly effective”.
However, he said stress levels among teachers – particularly heads – were very high due to the public scrutiny endured by the education system.
And he warned that there was a “dire lack of counselling” available.
Mr Eaglesham said some local authorities had a high standard of dedicated support available, but others combined it with the disciplining of teachers. He said the two had to be distinct.
Scottish Borders Council, which employed Miss Hogg, said she would have had access to the free counselling service offered through its occupational health service. The director of education, Glenn Rodger, said the authority’s thoughts were with her friends.
A spokesman for HMIE said: “HMIE offers sincere condolences to the family and friends of Irene Hogg, as well as to the pupils, parents and staff at Glendinning Primary School. While we can confirm that Glendinning School was recently inspected, HMIE will not be adding any further statement at this time.”
The Scottish Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith, a former teacher, said she believed the system to be “sound”, but admitted the inspections were “stressful because they involve a huge amount of work and parents see it as a very important part of the process”.
She added: “If a school doesn’t get a good report, it’s a big thing for them and difficult to cope with.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government expressed condolences to Miss Hogg’s friends and family and said that teacher stress was primarily a matter for the local authorities as the employer.
Inspections provoke virtual outbreaks of mass hysteria
I WAS very saddened to learn of the death Irene Hogg. School inspections are stressful occasions, especially for the school management team, who ultimately accept the accolades or bear the brunt of criticism when the inspectors’ report is published.
When a school learns that an inspection will take place, there is a virtual outbreak of mass hysteria. Everyone is on edge, fearful that the school’s reputation will be damaged if inspectors find fault.
I have known colleagues to have been physically sick with worry over an inspector sitting in their classroom observing a lesson. There is a palpable sense of relief when the HMIe personnel leave.
Last week, my own school received a very worthy report, the good news celebrated with free apple turnovers and an extended playtime to digest the feast.
During an inspection, a headteacher is put under the microscope. The head is under enormous pressure to justify the level of attainment and show strategies that will further improve results. Leadership qualities are assessed, as are the endeavours to foster partnerships with the local community.
The tension is not helped by the knowledge that an adverse report may lead to the council education directorate offering the rector a pathway out of the profession, ie early retirement, a secondment elsewhere or a job at council headquarters. This is done without fuss and publicity, but it happens more often than one would think.
HMIe inspections have always caused anxiety, but the strain of an inspection has been heightened in recent years by the media highlighting the findings of inspectorate reports. These reports can be viewed online, enabling parents to question why their child’s establishment has not received the “excellent” grading given to the school a few miles down the road.
Given the potentially traumatic experience of an inspection, it is no surprise that some rectors go on sick leave. Some never return. The pressure at the top cascades to classroom teachers.
But to be fair to HMIe, I think inspection is regarded by most in the teaching profession as a necessary evil that rids a school of any complacency and forces teachers and management to raise their game.
In my experience, HMIe inspectors are supportive, although some colleagues have a contrary opinion.
Perhaps more should be done to relieve the pressure felt by those on the receiving end of critical reports.
Hugh Reilly is a teacher at a Glasgow school.
HOW INSPECTIONS WORK
HM INSPECTORATE of Education (HMIE) aims to visit every school in Scotland every six or seven years.
Schools receive three weeks’ notice and questionnaires are sent to parents, teachers and pupils.
Inspectors sit in on classes, interview teachers and examine pupil performance.
They also look at levels of attendance, behaviour and participation in schemes such as Eco School or Healthy Living status.
A report is presented to the school and published on the HMIe website, with recommendations for improvements where necessary.
Inspectors can demand follow-up visits.
HMIe’s aim is for parents to receive both a primary and secondary report as their child moves up through schooling.
It hopes every school will have been inspected by the end of this year.
A recent review said HMIe should reduce the frequency of school inspections.