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Councillors have backed a formal complaint to Scotland’s schools watchdog following its damning report of education in Argyll and Bute.
After its inspection in September, Education Scotland (ES) graded Argyll and Bute ‘weak’ – second from the bottom in a six-point scale – in four ‘quality indicators’: ‘leadership and direction’, ‘leadership of change and improvement’, ‘improvement in performance’, and ‘delivering and improving the quality of services’.
The report, entitled Strategic Inspection of the Education Functions of Local Authorities, also marked it ‘satisfactory’ in a fifth, ‘impact on children, young people, adult learners and families’. However, Argyll and Bute Council evaluated itself ‘satisfactory’ in all five.
The report stated that school-leavers’ ‘attainment and progress in literacy and numeracy’ was lower than average, and ‘attainment in national qualifications has declined’ also ‘below’ or ‘well below’ average.
The council, in its response read by community services executive director Ann Marie Knowles to the Community Services Committee on April 6, acknowledged the report presented ‘very negative evaluations’ of its ‘education provision’.
But she also voiced ‘serious and significant concerns’ with the ‘process and conduct’ of ES’s inspection, which are now the subject of a formal complaint.
Specifically, the council cited the ‘unusual’ timing of ES’s notification on June 28, ‘the day before the start of the summer holidays’, an ‘extraordinary lack of inclusion of senior officers’, and criticisms of ‘short notice’. Furthermore, it said ES’s ‘revised set of quality indicators’ were ‘not tested, consulted on or even published prior to their engagement with [the] council’.
‘The report appears to feature inspection gradings that are not based on verified evidence,’ it added, and the inspection team did not include any ‘associate inspectors routinely used to moderate from the perspective of current practitioners’.
Citing concerns and a ‘large number of factual inaccuracies’, the council’s chief executive requested ES delay the report’s publication on March 21, but ‘he was advised it would be published because ES had no reason not to’.
A special meeting of Argyll and Bute councillors was held at Kilmory Castle the following day to discuss the report.
Councillor Rory Colville, the administration’s policy lead for education and lifelong learning, proposed a motion noting the report’s ‘positive aspects’, including above average attendance rates and numbers of school-leavers moving into employment, but also ‘serious concerns raised by council officers … regarding the process and conduct of the inspection’. It also detailed an action plan to address the inspection’s conclusions and a report on its success.
Leader of the opposition SNP group Sandy Taylor tabled an amendment asking councillors to withdraw the formal complaint. However, the motion was carried by 17 votes to nine.
Education Scotland, which promised to continue supporting Argyll and Bute Council, said: ‘HM Inspectors followed a rigorous and robust independent inspection process. Argyll and Bute Council had the opportunity to comment on the draft report and to provide any additional evidence. However, the final published report is the independent evaluation of HM Inspectors who are appointed to carry out this statutory function.’