Thursday, October 25, 2012

The national inspection report that never was

The last couple of days are among the most important in Uganda's education calendar, almost as important as the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). The Education and Sports Sector Review (ESSR) brings together the great and the good from the Ministry, local government, education development partners (international donors), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and various other hangers on. Stuart and I also tagged along. Well, I did -  Stuart's tolerance, for reasons I am about to explain, had well and truly run out. As usual in Uganda, the meeting started an hour late, the first presentations were irredeemably dull and it was matoke and goat stew for lunch. Stuart left after coffee.

The aim of the ESSR is to review progress on the priorities in the previous year's Education Sector Plan (ESP) and draft new targets for next year. Stuart and I, and our colleagues in the Directorate of Education Standards (DES, the national inspectorate), have been very busy preparing for this review, Stuart in particular. He has spent weeks gathering, analysing and collating the findings of all inspections carried out during 2010/2011 across the primary, secondary, business, technical, vocational (BTVET) and teacher education sectors . He then drafted the Inspectorate's annual report for ESSR, consulted on it with our colleagues and redrafted it many times over, an activity which consumed his working hours and spilled over into several evenings and weekends. This report is arguably the most comprehensive and authoritative DES report ever.

My task was far simpler: to draft the speech in which our Director would present the report and launch half a dozen booklets on school improvement. And, indeed, the Director had several interesting inspection findings to report. However, the key purpose of both the annual report and the Director's presentation was to inform decisions about appropriate targets for improvement in next year's ESP. So, this was major. These targets, scrutinised closely by educational development partners (embassies and their development wings like USAID and UKAID), have the potential to change the educational experiences of all Ugandan children. And believe you me, they need changing - drastically.

One would imagine that the report from the professional education inspectorate would be a key element in a national education review.

In all other countries yes. In Uganda? Alas no.

After weeks of what sounds like posturing and infighting in the planning committee, the 'other side' of the Ministry decided - just before the ESSR - that due to 'pressures of time' caused by an entirely predictable public holiday on a Friday, the national inspectorate's input would be removed from the programme. And not just the Director's presentation, but the actual report itself. So, the backwoodsmen and women won.

Clearly, in Uganda it is possible - indeed, desirable - to identify targets for education improvement without taking into account the findings of the country's own professional education evaluators. Could it be that the messages looked as if they might be just a teeny bit unwelcome?

Who knows? As far as the participants at this ESSR are concerned, there is no national report on education quality across all the districts and municipalities in the country and all four sectors. (Unlike last year when the Director did present the inspectorate's "state of the nation" report.) Neither the participants nor the general public (for the press was there) will ever know what the national inspectorate found when they made inspection visits across the country over the last year.

So, sorry about that. All readers like you can do is speculate. To while away the time then, let's do a bit of speculation together.

Let's start with PRIMARY EDUCATION.

Inspections of primary schools are carried out by local government (LG) inspectors, not by DES, though they send their reports to DES and DES monitors the quality of their inspections. I wonder what the DES inspectors might have told the ESSR about primary inspection? Possibly this.
  • Only half the districts accounted for the funds they had been given to carry out inspection and submitted their reports on schools to DES.
In fact, the non-existent ESSR report might even have listed the names of the districts which failed to account for their funds. Pure speculation, of course, but it might have been useful for participants to see that list - unless, of course, for some reason, the men and women from the Ministry would rather it didn't exist.

Potential implications?

Many of the planned inspections of primary schools may not have been carried out, and the quality of education schools provide may have been left unmonitored. Perhaps the inspection funds were diverted into other activities (or people's pockets). You'll never know, of course, because there is no DES report on inspection for ESSR.

Potential impact?

LG inspectors play a crucial role in ensuring that basic requirements and minimum standards are in place in schools. If they don't do their work properly, many children end up suffering from poor quality teaching and may not be safe in school. Their learning and achievements may be significantly lower than would otherwise be the case.

Let's speculate a bit more. In those districts which actually bothered to submit reports, what kind of findings might their inspectors have come up with, if there had been a report to ESSR? Something like this, perhaps?
  • 74% of teachers were absent from school on the day it was inspected. 
This is a far worse figure than the 80% teacher attendance the ESSR produced yesterday in its hurried and superficial field 'validation exercise'. Not surprising. The DES findings are based on a far larger sample over a longer period of time than in the validation exercise, and schools could not predict when inspectors would be visiting.

Potential impact?

Across the country, in the absence of their teachers, many children may not have been learning and may have been left unsupervised and unsafe at school.


Very quickly, let's speculate a bit more as to what the national inspectors might have found in their analysis of reports on primary schools. Perhaps it was something like this.
  • In some areas, the school day was far too long (often from 7am till after 6pm, sometimes till 10pm).
  • Children suffered from continuous testing. Teachers do not understand what is meant by continuous assessment.
  • Too few inspections were followed up.
  • 80% of districts reported delays in the receipt of funds for Universal Primary Education (UPE) [For each child, schools receive the princely sum of Shs5,000 per term, £1.25.]
  • Teaching was of poor quality, mostly rote learning and with inadequate provision for special needs.
  • Standards of hygiene, water and sanitation were poor.
  • Corporal punishment was at unacceptable levels: 91% of P3 and 88% of P6 had been beaten .
  • There were major issues about the safety and security of children.
Potential implications?

If this was a real report rather than an imaginary one, DES might have concluded that children were being let down by headteachers, teachers and district officials, the very people who should put their interests first.

We can speculate that while some children (mostly poor, rural) are missing out on the benefits of education, others (mostly wealthier, urban) are suffering under unacceptably long hours of study, both on weekdays and weekends. This shows that teachers may not be planning effectively so that they cover the curriculum within school hours.

In the report that never was, inspectors might have found that too much time was lost to teaching by an over-emphasis on testing and cramming. Children do not learn from repeated testing. In fact, it reduces curriculum coverage, leading to less learning. Lack of opportunities for critical thinking and independent learning hamper children's intellectual development.

The non-existent report could have found that many primary schools are violent places where children learn violence from their teachers. In some schools, children are allowed to cane other children: an unacceptable practice. Child welfare issues are critical in ensuring that every child in Uganda gets a fair deal and is not physically or sexually damaged in any way at home, at school or elsewhere.

The report that never was would probably have added that schools were not able to do their work properly, owing to a lack of sufficient funds released by the government at the right time for use in supporting learning.

Potential impact?

One of the most worrying aspects of the report that never was, is how little schools and districts actually knew about the educational and other outcomes achieved by their learners. The report might well have found that children's achievements were too low and that their safety at school was not assured. Child safety depends on districts gathering and analysing data relating to child protection so that they can take the necessary steps and provide the country as a whole with an accurate view of key issues.

Overall, in the report that never was, inspectors found that in primary schools there were major weaknesses in ALL aspects of provision.


Now, let us speculate about the effectiveness of primary inspection itself, as judged by the national inspectorate. Perhaps they found something like this.
  • LG inspectors have a limited understanding of the quality framework they have been trained to use.
  • Some found it difficult to be objective and gave inflated evaluations of schools in their districts.
  • They did not routinely analyse attendance rates, trends in PLE results or child protection statistics.
  • Their explanation and analysis of data was non-existent or sketchy.
Potential implications?

Without effective analysis of data, LG inspectors would not know whether attainment in their district was getting better, getting worse or staying the same - as found by the report that never was. In the report that never was, many inspectors also did not know how many children had been the victims of violence, both sexual abuse and physical beatings, nor how many cases had been dropped in exchange for money.

Potential impact?

If districts know so little about their schools and the welfare of, and educational outcomes achieved by learners, they will find it very difficult to take action to improve them.


Now let's move onto SECONDARY EDUCATION, where national DES inspectors carry out the inspections themselves. The report that never was would have had two key sources of evidence: inspection findings in relation to basic requirements and minimum standards; and inspections for science and maths in a sample of schools and districts. It is possible that the ESSR used some of this data but did not acknowledge its source in DES inspection.

Let us speculate as to the possible findings overall.

  • Most schools, especially private schools, did not meet basic requirements and minimum standards.
  • Only 66% of headteachers and 50% of teachers were present on the day of the inspection.
  • Schemes of work were inadequate, lessons poorly prepared and there was no continuous assessment. 
  • Few schools had functional libraries and science laboratories.
  • Staffing in science and maths was inadequate.
  • Support supervision was irregular and ineffective.
  • Lesson planning was poor and there was very little interactive teaching and learning.
  • Curriculum coverage was inadequate.
  • There were serious concerns about safety and security. Many schools and boarding facilities were unlicensed. In fact, most private schools operated illegal boarding facilities. 
Potential impact?

This imaginary report indicates that secondary students are often unsafe and do not receive sufficient teaching. Their work is poorly assessed and does not reach appropriate standards.

As a result, learners may be ill prepared for their future lives in a technological society. Their limited educational diet and lack of opportunity to develop thinking skills and creativity may be obstacles to their personal development as well as to their future contribution to national development.

Secondary education will not improve unless primary education makes drastic improvements to the quality of teaching, learning and skills development and in the quality of outcomes achieved by learners before they enter secondary school. However, that, of course, is just speculation.

Overall, the report that never was found that there were important weaknesses in the extent to which secondary schools met basic requirements, and that education in science and maths had major weaknesses.


We can speculate that many of these weaknesses may also have been present in BTVET INSTITUTIONS. Here are some of the possible findings in the report that never was.
  • Staff appraisal was infrequent and rarely informed staff development.
  • Lesson planning and preparation were poor.
  • There was inadequate monitoring and supervision of teaching and learning by senior staff.
  • There was inadequate monitoring of attendance.
  • There was almost no self-evaluation and little monitoring of outcomes for learners.
  • There were poor arrangements for health, sanitation and security.
Potential impact?

Improvements in the quality of the training provided by BTVET institutions will only be possible when leaders and managers have put in place quality systems which lead to effective planning for improvement and improved outcomes for young people.

Overall, the quality of BTVET education was poor across almost all aspects.


The report that never was also evaluated aspects of TEACHER EDUCATION: the work of coordinating centre tutors (CCTs - the outreach tutors in primary teachers' colleges) and the quality of non-core primary teachers' colleges (PTCs). Its findings could well have been as follows.
  • CCTs' planning was weak and did not focus on the needs of individual schools and teachers.
  • Less than half of CCTs supported teachers adequately to help them prepare effective lessons.
  • The required bi-monthly reviews are not undertaken.
  • CCTs are not sufficiently familiar with the processes of school self-evaluation.
  • CCTs have little impact in mobilising the community.
  • The provision and management of PTC buildings is poor, with many being dangerous and dilapidated.
  • Staff development is weak, staff appraisal infrequent and CPD needs are not identified well.
  • Few pre-service tutors present students with models of good teaching and learning.
Potential implications?

The poor quality teaching, learning and assessment in primary schools are not going to improve unless teachers develop better professional skills during pre-service training and post-service CPD support. Students are generally expected to learn by rote and receive few opportunities for discussion, problem solving and independent research and critical thinking.

Potential impact?

It is hardly surprising that when students qualify, their own teaching may be ineffective. Few will have observed or experienced effective up-to-date teaching themselves.

The poor management of teaching and learning processes in PTCs clearly has a detrimental impact on the quality of teaching in schools across the country. There are important weaknesses in the overall quality of teacher education.


A root and branch review is needed of the leadership and management of PTCs and their effectiveness in training teachers in successful delivery of the skills and outcomes expected of education in the 21st century.

So this is a bit of the evidence and a few of the evaluations of Ugandan education which the men and women from Ministry may not want you to know about.

Now, of course, none of these findings are real. These are just a few extracts from an imaginary report, a report that might have been presented to the ESSR if anybody had been interested or thought it useful. In order to address the issues raised by the report that never was, DES developed a new approach to inspection, one which was going to be outlined at the ESSR. Alas, another casualty. The new guides to school improvement are another approach to improving quality in schools and are intended for the trainign and support of local government inspectors and CCTs. Fortunately, these guides do exist and received a modest 'launch' at the ESSR.

A professional report of this status is substantial: 33 pages of carefully argued and expressed non-existent print in this case. It contains examples, evaluative detail and extracts from the wider evidence base. The evidence contained in a professional evaluator's report is based on a range of indicators: qualitative and quantitative. DES uses a set of indicators published in its Handbook for School Inspectors, Education Standards Agency*, 2005, for transparency is essential. Evidence is triangulated and carefully weighed. However, none of this background information is relevant as the report, as we know, does not exist.

This may be unfortunate for those you who may be interested in reading such an authoritative report about the state of Uganda's education system. You can ask around your contacts in the education world, but I suspect that, sadly, it is now well and truly dead. Odd to think that only two or three days ago, it was alive and kicking and waiting to be launched into a welcoming world!

This post is an obituary, really, for the ill-fated ESSR report on Ugandan education and for our own many failed and (as it now appears) unwelcome attempts to help Uganda improve the quality of its education. Stuart can't wait to get home. I do at least have the satisfaction of knowing that some people are interested in the guides to school improvement and may use them.

This little girl is what it's all about. School is still ahead of her. What kind of education will she receive?

* The Education Standards Agency is the body which used to carry out inspections in Uganda. It was replaced by the Directorate of Education Standards in, I think, 2008 or thereabouts. The reason for the change? An agency is pretty much independent of government interference, an important status for an inspectorate which needs to write honest and transparent accounts of the quality of what it finds. DES, however, is a Ministry department. It is therefore not independent.

You may also be interested in the following post.

Are our children learning? Dark educational clouds with a hint of a silver lining

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