Education secretary says there could be ‘merit’ in scrapping inspection grades

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Scotland’s chief inspector of schools has been urged by the education secretary to look into ending the current grading system because it forms too much of a focus of reports.

John Swinney said there could be “merit” in removing the six grades that inspectors now give to schools’ performance: unsatisfactory, weak, satisfactory, good, very good or excellent.

Speaking at a conference in Edinburgh organised by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Mr Swinney said any such decision was ultimately up to Education Scotland. However, the chief inspector of schools, Gayle Gorman, confirmed to delegates that the idea was already under consideration, albeit at an early stage.

Replying to a question from a Glasgow headteacher, Mr Swinney said the grade inspectors gave a school earned too much attention and that narrative conclusions would perhaps be more useful.

Jean Miller, headteacher at Smithycroft Secondary, asked if Scotland could follow Wales, which was considering removing grades from its reports. Mr Swinney replied: “I think you’ve got a point. Inspection is carried out independent of me, but obviously I set out to the chief inspector what my aspirations are about inspection.

“I quite understand the temptation… just to gravitate towards, ‘What did you get?’ I think there’s merit in that argument (of removing grades).

“The chief inspector can consider if there is a case for not having grades but simply having a commentary which gives very clear indications of what steps are required to improve the performance of that school.”

However, Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said school reports in that format could seem “subjective”, which would worry parents.

“One of the most important reasons for school inspections is that they show the year-on-year performance of pupils. Graded criteria can be very helpful in that respect,” she said.

“Many parents find the school inspection reports difficult to read and therefore this change will only compound the problem.”

The conference was held amid warnings from the EIS that the Scottish government had only one week to raise its pay offer to teachers, otherwise union members would vote on strike action.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said teachers felt undervalued. Its members rejected a pay offer earlier this month worth nine per cent by April, plus a three per cent increase in 2020. Mr Swinney said “a huge amount of public money” had been offered to teachers for a pay deal.


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