Pressure is growing for radical reform of Scotland’s education watchdog after figures revealed over 700 schools had not been inspected for a decade or more.

Critics said the data suggested Education Scotland (ES) was “not fit for purpose”.

But the agency hit back, insisting the number of checks had increased significantly in recent years.

It comes amid intense political debate over the body’s future, with opposition MSPs last month voting in favour of proposals to split scrutiny activities from its curriculum development role.

READ MORE: Chief inspector and SQA boss hit back at MSPs

According to statistics published under freedom of information laws, 704 Scottish schools have not had an inspection in a decade or longer. 

They also show 558 have not been visited in eight to ten years.

ES said previously that quality checks would be paused due to the impact of Covid-19.

It did, however, carry out overviews of the remote learning experience offered during the recent period of pandemic-related closures.

HeraldScotland: Jamie Greene said the statistics were concerning.Jamie Greene said the statistics were concerning.

Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservative education spokesman, said ministers were guilty of “negligence” and that his party would establish a “new independent body” for inspections.

“Parliament has voted for this to happen, despite SNP Ministers refusing to accept their calls,” he added. 

“They should respect the cross-party vote and implement this body urgently.”

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said the fact many schools go more than a decade without an inspection was a “real problem”. 

But he stressed that simply increasing the frequency of checks would not improve the situation.

“What it would do is significantly increase the stress levels of already overworked teachers and headteachers,” he added. 

READ MORE: John Swinney urged to set out education reform timetable

“To drive improvement, we should switch to the Finnish model of peer-to-peer inspection and support between teachers from different schools.  

“For that to work well, we must first reverse the cuts made to education staffing numbers a decade ago.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said: “It makes sense to reduce the inspection burden on schools until the pandemic has passed, but these figures show that many schools had not been inspected for far longer than that.”

She added: “With some schools already going years without an inspection, perhaps this would be the moment to consider whether the present inspection regime is fit for purpose.”

Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “We urgently need school inspections to commence once more as soon as it is safe, starting with the schools that have waited the longest.”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary John Swinney.Education Secretary John Swinney.

An Education Scotland spokeswoman said: “Schools are selected for inspection on a proportionate basis, using a sampling approach and predetermined set criteria rather than a cyclical approach. Education Scotland has significantly increased the number of school inspections. 

“In the academic year 2018/19, Education Scotland completed 252 school inspection - an increase of over 30% on the previous year. In academic year 2019/20, Education Scotland had committed to carrying out in excess of 250 school inspections.  

“This was on track to be achieved. However, the inspection programme was paused on 13 March 2020 due to Covid-19, which meant that the programme for the academic year could not be completed as planned. 

“Education Scotland will recommence inspections when it is considered safe and appropriate to do so.”