Covid Scotland: Teachers' union hits out at resumption of school inspections during disruption

The Scottish Government has been branded “out of touch” by Scotland’s biggest teachers’ union after it was revealed plans are underway to reintroduce school inspections amid continued Covid disruption that has seen record levels of pupil and teacher absences.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said the return of “scrutiny activity” inspections, announced on the Education Scotland website on Thursday, would undermine any progress to securing the wellbeing of pupils and staff.

School inspections were paused in March last year during the Covid pandemic to enable a greater focus in schools on supporting education recovery.

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The EIS has hit out at plans to resume school inspections.

However, Education Scotland said inspectors would now "adopt a phased approach to resuming” their scrutiny activity this academic year and the programme of inspections would take “account of the ongoing pressures resulting from the pandemic”.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the move showed Education Scotland and the Scottish Government were “deeply out of touch with the reality that schools are currently facing amidst record levels of pupil and teacher Covid-related absence and therefore significant ongoing disruption”.

He added: “Rather than inspecting schools, Education Scotland’s efforts should be channelled firmly in the direction of supporting schools as they continue to respond to the Covid crisis, maintaining education provision for young people in very difficult circumstances.

“This kind of approach will detract attention from the priority at hand and will contribute little or nothing to what should be the immediate endeavour of the education system – that is recovery that places the wellbeing of young people and teachers at the heart.”

New figures released on Friday showed more than half of all schools in Scotland reported at least one positive case of Covid-19 among pupils in the first two weeks of term.

Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said the return of schools in Scotland contributed to the spike in Covid-19 cases seen in recent weeks.

Pupils aged 12 to 15 are also now to be vaccinated in a bid to reduce infection rates.

According to Mr Flanagan, schools inspections were of “limited value” pre-pandemic in terms of supporting learning and teaching and to reintroduce them now “is somewhat nonsensical”.

“We expect better of the Scottish Government, especially given the commitment to act on the recommendation of the OECD, to remove the inspection function from Education Scotland in the interests of providing better support to schools,” he said.

“This is a retrograde step and one which suggests that the Scottish Government is not listening to the concerns and needs of the teaching profession as it continues to fight the impact of the pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Education Scotland said scrutiny by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) would restart as part of supporting recovery in schools.

“HMIE carefully considered their approach with regard to the phased return to scrutiny activity,” the spokesperson said.

“As has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, HMIE are committed to supporting recovery across the education system and learn from practitioners about the work underway to address the impact of Covid-19.

“Any scheduled visits will be in place to support establishments, local authorities and proprietors to evaluate their work and identify what is working well and plan next steps. As always, we will keep reviewing plans linked with public health guidance and local circumstances related to the pandemic.”

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