There is no one who works in schools anywhere in the country who doesn’t welcome the School Inspectors without some trepidation. As a constituent member of one of the Associations (ISA 600+ schools) under the Independent Schools Council, Regulatory Compliance and Education Quality Inspections are managed and staffed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, for whom our former Executive Headteacher, Justin Spanswick occasionally works as a Reporting Inspector (RI). Our last Inspection was January 2018; it’s deemed that schools are not safe if left for more than 3 years, so it was with come welcome relief that I ‘took the call’ first thing Monday morning, and from Tuesday to Thursday this week we have had a team of 9 inspectors in our establishment to check through the 400+ regulations we are required to observe for the safe and effect running of our school(s). If you are keen, you can check them out (here), but please don’t try too hard, as many of the Regs have additional guidance alongside to expand, explain and make them recognisable.
You can start with the first one, if you like:
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(1)(a), the matters are—
(a)full-time supervised education for pupils of compulsory school age (construed in accordance with section 8 of the Education Act 1996), which gives pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education;
Now what on earth might that look like, I hear you ask? Here is ours by way of example, which has some 3000 words, some graphical images and some really vital sentences tha make our curriculum very much what Claires Court stands for ⬥ Curriculum Policy http://schl.cc/13
Now I promise you I am not going to go into any more detail on this or the other hundreds of reg requirements, but by way of example, this highlights the very big challenge ISI have when sending a team in, because we are inspected in addition against what we say we do, as opposed to in publicly owned schools where they are inspected against what the government asks them to pursue. With every independent school being unique, and with Claires Court Schools Ltd. being the largest proprietorially owned in England, that doubles the complication as not only are the aims. values and learning philosophies of our own making, but the owners too are unique!
So today we have been reflecting on a great job, well done. Under intense scrutiny, schools just have to move into synchrony, everyone knowing their part and creating the story live in real time. Tuesday to Wednesday Lunchtime had 3 inspectors checking all of the dry regulations that don’t include children. From staff recruitment, safeguarding, H&S, transport, fire drills and all, no stone is left unturned, documented and as appropriate squeezed a little to keep in shape. Wednesday & Thursday had teachers and children in the mix. Once notified on Monday morning, parents, children and staff had been invited to make comment by 8pm on the ISI feedback form, the responses setting up trails of queries for the inspectors to pursue. Many thanks to everyone that participated; their comments remind school and inspectors that there are some big issues to praise, challenge and query.
Yesterday evening, Mrs Kirby, Mr Richards, Mrs Rogers, my brother Hugh and I received some 75 minutes of feedback which sounded really knowledgeable, informed, appreciative, respectful and indeed celebratory. We thanked the Team as much as they thanked us – it genuinely is as much a privilege for inspectors to visit schools such as ours as it is to welcome them from their successful careers, current and past in schools like ours. As a currently resting RI, I know just what an all consuming affair inspection is; perhaps the most ‘interesting’ bit is learning which hotel ISI have found for you (Premier Inn by Maidenhead station) in the hope that there will be good beds, good lighting in the room, good wifi, breakfast and dinner to match. Once the inspection is over, inspectors go home, exhausted, complete their sectional writing and first draft of report for next Thursday…. and then sometime in January 2023 the Reports are published (Compliance & Education Quality), and we get to decide how to respond to the required recommendations as a consequence.
In the meantime, what happened is wrapped in confidentiality, with Leadership, Management and staff turning up the next day as if nothing had happened. Which of course is impossible, if for one reason and one reason only – the children. Claires Court hosts an amazing community of children, young making their first ‘baby steps’ through to the ‘almost’ grown up young people completing their sixth form studies, driving to and from school and planning their next steps into Apprenticeship, College, Gap beak, University and/or the world of WORK. I do not break confidentiality to say just how impressed our visitors were with the young people they saw over the 3 days, with some directly emailing in or making contact direct. Of course we await the report, but as it was my seventh school inspection in 32 years, I won’t hold my breath. The report has to be short, to the point, succinct and with a reading age of 14 or less. I recall the first report I wrote was full of my best ‘purple prose’ – the first draft was returned covered in ‘blood’ red corrections, one page seemingly entirely scarlet in colour. The last, for Badminton school down near Bristol is one of those Compliance only reports, to be found here – still alive and soon to be replaced I imagine.
Thursday night was the PTA Christmas Market at CCJB, and the first night of our musical showcase ‘Oh Britannia’ tonight at Senior Boys, with tomorrow lots more of school life too, which rather makes day-time snapshotting schools for inspection a pretty ‘shallow dig’ after all, as none of the really lovely stuff gets seen and heard. Happy days indeed, the Inspectors have gone away for another Year or 3 – lets hope we don’t get another pandemic in the meantime to close down our lives once more.