School inspections are to resume in a move that has been branded retrograde and out of touch by union bosses.

Standards body Education Scotland (ES) said its staff would adopt a “phased approach” to scrutiny activity during the current session.

It comes after ES chiefs decided in March last year to pause the programme amid fears over Covid-19. The move was aimed at allowing schools to maximise support to teachers, pupils and local communities.

ES said its initial focus going forward would be on education establishments and services that were due to have a further inspection. Visits will be planned in advance and carried out before the end of 2021.

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Thereafter, from January next year, HMIE will undertake a programme covering individual early learning and childcare (ELC) settings and schools. ES stressed it would continue to take account of Covid-19 recovery efforts and the context in which education establishments have been working.

There will also be three national thematic inspections in the coming months. These will look at supporting children’s and young people’s wellbeing, local approaches to recovery and outdoor learning.

Gayle Gorman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, said: “We have carefully considered our approach to scrutiny activity for this academic year. We recognise how challenging the Covid-19 pandemic has been for everyone alongside the ongoing pressures on staff and learners of returning to establishments after the summer break and given the current health challenges.

“We want to support the education system to recover from the impact of the pandemic and we would like to thank all local authorities, staff, learners and their families for their continued hard work and resilience through recent difficult times.

“We are aware of the ongoing, changing situation with Covid-19. We will continue to be adaptive and responsive to changing circumstances linked to the pandemic that staff and learners may face.”

HeraldScotland: HM Chief Inspector Gayle Gorman.HM Chief Inspector Gayle Gorman.

However, union leaders were strongly critical.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, said: “This move shows Education Scotland and the Scottish Government to be 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.

“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.”

He added: “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.”

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Scottish Conservative Oliver Mundell, Shadow Education Secretary, said: “It is welcome to see a planned return of inspections in our schools. They were understandably postponed at the height of the pandemic, but many schools across the country haven’t been inspected for years on the SNP’s watch and just isn’t acceptable moving forward.

“Parents, young people and our teachers deserve to know how their school is doing on a much more regular basis." 

He added: “Planned reforms offer an opportunity to ensure that inspections are much more focused on the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms.

“At present Education Scotland’s top down approach is far more interested in pursuing their own ideological agenda and preferences rather than driving meaningful improvement. 

“Giving experienced frontline teachers a greater role in independent inspections and moving to a simplified, more frequent, health check model would help deliver the kind of feedback that works for both parents and schools and is the first step in restoring confidence in our education system. 

“It would also help share best practice and improve consistency across the country.”

HeraldScotland: Ross Greer is keen for a peer review-based inspection process to be considered.Ross Greer is keen for a peer review-based inspection process to be considered.

Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: "The pre-Covid inspection regime certainly didn’t support teachers or lead to improvement in schools.

"Instead, it regularly generated additional work and immense stress for school staff, who were pressured to rapidly implement policies their school hasn’t actually adopted but which would tick a box for the purposes of a positive HMIE report. Inspectors had a similar experience in life to the Queen, everywhere they went smelled like fresh paint.

“The ongoing review led by Ken Muir is an opportunity to replace this counter-productive system with one based on trust and respect. I’m keen that peer-review between teachers from different schools is considered, given the success this model has had elsewhere. ”