School inspection: recent experiences in high performing education systems

Karen Whitby

This report focuses on inspection practices in a range of countries with developed education systems, including in particular: England, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore and the Netherlands.

With school decentralisation becoming increasingly widespread internationally, especially as regards staff and resource management or even educational practice in general, school inspection systems are assuming key importance in ensuring quality provision for all. ‘Around the world school inspection is subject to critical scrutiny’ (MacBeath, 2000, preface), however there has been little rigorous research on the impact of inspection (Byatt & Lyons, 2001, cited in Martin, 2005, p500), and ‘no analysis to determine which… styles [of inspection] are the most appropriate’ (Vass and Simmonds, 2001, p16). This report attempts to summarise the existing literature in the field by looking at why education is inspected, whether inspection systems should be self- or externally regulated (or a mixture of the two), who and what is inspected, and the stakeholders in the processes and the products of inspection.

The report is based on the findings of a systematic, thematic comparison of inspection systems, based primarily on the six countries identified above, but also drawing on other international examples as appropriate.Literature, dating from 2000 onwards, that was sought related to compulsory education (that is, early years, post-16 and Higher Education were not included). The focus was on literature and documentation relevant to school inspection in mainstream schools. Only literature written in English was obtained and relevant websites and publication lists were also searched. In total more than 40 documents were read and systematically reviewed.