The Scottish Review      13 June 2013

The disturbing facts behind my sister's death

Roger Hogg

Irene Hogg, a headteacher in the Borders, was found dead in the Cheviot hills in March 2008.

I write regarding Richard Burton's recent article (21 May) on the issue of school inspections and the attendant fall-out. I am Irene Hogg's brother and was involved in the FAI that followed her death, albeit almost two years later and after much lobbying.

I have to say that I was enormously disappointed by the whole FAI process, which seemed little more than another futile administrative exercise.

The family trod a fine line between wanting to extract all the details from the participants, the local authority and HMIE (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education) inspectors, whilst at the same time trying to avoid added pain for our mother and father. I did not want to pursue the local authority in the courts as it seemed wasteful of everyone's resources. We had hoped that the FAI would force HMIE and the local authorities to take more care, but it seems from Mr Burton's article that nothing has changed. All continue on as before.

We had hoped that someone, anyone, within the structure of Scottish education would have grasped the fact that devoted people's lives are being seriously affected by the way that inspections are foisted upon schools, and the way in which they are carried out.

Irene was about to take early retirement from teaching – in fact, she had one term and one week left. Yet still it was deemed reasonable to have an inspection of her school, even though she herself had made it quite clear to the education authority that she was in serious difficulty with her joint administrative and teaching roles, added to which, staffing issues meant that her own support was limited. Let us not forget, Irene had been a headteacher for many, many years and she knew the ropes. She was highly respected and was a valued member of several professional bodies, including the Headteachers' Association. Irene was no weak link, as anyone who knew her would confirm.

Just to reiterate what the FAI appeared disinterested in – Irene was about to retire. Little, or more likely nothing, could have been gained from having an inspection of a school which would have had a new headteacher for the coming school year. Irene had made it abundantly clear to local authority senior staff, including the director, that she was not coping (which, for someone as strong-minded as Irene, would have been a major admission).

The director of education did not seek to defer or cancel the inspection – no support personnel from local authority HQ were present in the school at any time in the week of the inspection. Irene had to mind all the children in the school by herself after her own 'feedback' session with the HMIE inspectors. I was told that the local authority had been trying to recruit an extra teacher for the school, but that the person selected failed to turn up on the start day, and nothing more was done.

The FAI also heard that there were staff counselling and support services available to Irene, but I have to say that I am unaware of any such thing. They may exist in documentation.

After Irene's death, there was no counselling service or facility whatsoever for either the staff of the school or the children. This begs the question of what effects the circumstances will have had on young minds. Had such a thing happened in a USA school, the place would have been flooded with counsellors, partly as a strong response, and partly as a protection against being sued for breach of duty of care to staff and children alike.

Taken as a whole, this whole event was a litany of disasters – but no-one was held to account. Nothing was done, and now it seems that nothing has changed. May God help us, for it seems that we will not help ourselves.