7 days – it’s always 7 days – and what happens when the ‘phone doesn’t ring

One of the Open secrets within our school is that we are due an Inspection event. Not just any set of visitors, but a defining set that are hand-picked specifically to pull our weft and weave apart, check what DNA they find to ensure it is the genotype that covers the code we say we generate in our handbooks, and in passing make sure that those we educate are actually being just that – becoming leaders of their learning.

What is incredibly stressful for us all is that we think we know when such an event is to happen. 3 years ago next week we were pretty certain we were to be ‘done’ then, because it was 6 years ago next week we were last ‘stood by our beds’ and had our work checked. At about the 3 year mark, the government extended school inspections out from 3 to 6 for schools that were found to be compliant and Good and Outstanding. So at the last minute we stood down, and 2 years ago this week reset our alarm because (not knowing any better) we thought our ‘sixth sense’ was telling us ‘The Inspector Calls!’ Well – you’ve guessed it, I was not rung today, so as we have half-term in 2 weeks time, we can all stand down for a couple of weeks and get on with normal life, whatever that is.  Favourite lessons can now be taught, frantic last minute marking and feedback-ing will gently ease and the school will probably become a better learning environment as a result.

The 7 day thing is about how we get to hear – 5 working days notice, 7 calendar days, and Inspections take place on Tuesday to Friday inclusive. It’s how ISC schools are inspected, by the way, by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI for short), not Ofsted by the way. ISI don’t have our data, our demographic info, our timetables or even dare I say, any of our planning until they ring. Once the call comes in, I have 24 hours to turn the data round and send it back, and then to plan with the assigned Reporting Inspector how s/he is going to manage the process with his team (who s/he is unlikely to have worked with before). Not receiving a phone call today means we are not being inspected next week; every week since November we have been inspecting the call. We are rather tired of waiting it must be said.

The changes since we were last inspected are immense; new heads in post at Junior Boys and Girls, many new teachers leading departments, new pedagogies and philosophies, new technologies such as Chromebooks and iPads weren’t invented and Apps for Edu were but a twinkle in Google’s eye, and above all, the entire National Curriculum and Public examination system has been turned over as if it were a dead donkey at the end of its travails. Yes our academic results have continued to reflect really well on both boys and girls, our successes in terms of University entrance have continued to impress, and our other departures to senior schools elsewhere and indeed into the world of work continue to provide endless opportunities for debate and paid employment respectively.

Over the last 2 years we have gathered Olympians and Paralympians to the fold, our pupils have gained honours, credit and praise for some quite astonishing achievements by any measure, and there isn’t really a flip side; what’s not to like. Looking forward, we have unwrapped a cunning plan for the potential redevelopment of Claires Court onto one campus site up by Junior Boys.  Some exciting new partners have come forward to assist in making that happen.  Some old acquaintances of the school are renewing their friendship as it seems our potential value as a community partner has increased substantially.

It takes some new eyes, seeing us for the first time, to help us in re-marking what actually has stayed the same. We are compellingly friendly as an institution. I know  that sounds odd, but just inside each of our 3 front doors is to be found something that seems really very much like a home. We have learned for 54 years that buildings do not a school make, nor examinations sat therein. What marks our school out is that it feels like home inside; all within are ‘family’, and will be treated with respect and care. We don’t exist for anything other than the children we serve. There’s no grand design to turn out captains of industry or great explorers, no mould or two into which we press our children to squeeze out the shape expected of our graduates, no arrogance of place or vaulting ambition. That’s not to say we don’t plan for children to succeed beyond their wildest dreams, because we do. But it takes time and care and something not achieved by hothouse or straightjacket.

I attended the G9 Subject Options fair this evening for our girls seeking to confirm their GCSE choices for Year 10. English, Maths and Science were there in all pomp, but no need to preen their feathers as all are required to continue in these core disciplines. MFL were vying with their S’il vous plaits, Danke schön and Gracias in equal measures, knowing perchance that Bus Comms, Drama, Music and Tech might turn those from their path to something seemingly more relevant. The sense of market place conjured up was real; we genuinely don’t mind which subject the emerging students take up at this next stage. After all, it’s not just their current lives rather than ours we are talking about, but their futures in an uncertain world. Being treated as young adults, engaging with the variety of opportunities that excite and committing to a sustained course of diligent endeavour is way to guarantee confident, optimistic and engaging young adults will emerge in 2 years time.

We are doing the same with those making A level choices currently, as we are with those looking for secondary school options. It’s true to say that we are both open for business and working all hours. This very obvious marketplace for education which is being developed as an entity not just in England but across the globe is providing in principle a wide range of diverse opportunities for parents and pupils. Yet in practice it is not. Michael Gove was suggesting yesterday that the days need to be longer,  discipline and exams harder, holidays shorter, such that state schools become indistinguishable from private schools. What a complete pastiche the man is making of actually what schools like us stand for. In response, Siobhan Freegard, founder of the Netmums website, had this to say (BBC website):

“What parents want is a school where children are recognised as individuals”. But she says parents seem unconvinced that the plusher private facilities for sports and arts are likely to appear any time soon in their local state school. On more testing, parents are supportive, she says, but it needs to be testing with a clear purpose. The Netmums boss says the most unambiguous reaction was to the idea of longer school days, with a strong negative response from mothers. They wanted more flexible working so they could get home in time, rather than stretching the day for their children”.

I started the day at a Junior Boys coffee morning, with parents choosing to adjust their own career expectations by making themselves available as parents for their children and to support their school. Now most weren’t there, I know, and life isn’t just about tea and cakes. But our kind of school provides the kind of breadth that allows for a full family life for some, and for an extended day with very many opportunities for others. Life, like Education, isn’t just one size fits all. We have choices and actually that’s the most powerful message our school sends out every day. As for the phone call – it will be really quite nice to wake up tomorrow to think that it’ll be 3 weeks or so before I have to ‘fret’ once more. So I won’t – no worries there!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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