An Inspector Calls (or rather 16 do!)

Posted on: 14 Nov 2014

The first half term for any new Head is a unique experience in itself, however even more unique is having a full inspection of the School by the Independent Schools Inspectorate after only 4 weeks in post! Rachel Dent, Head of The Abbey School, Readi

I would like to dispel some of the myths that surround this experience. The first is ‘the call’ which alerts you that your school will be inspected (routinely every 6 years). I had long held visions of a red phone and alarm bells, but in reality it was a simple confirmation that the ISI inspection would take place the whole of the following week and I should brief staff to prepare accordingly. As The Abbey School educates 1,100 girls from Nursery to Sixth Form our team of inspectors would be larger than usual – 16 (of whom 13 were current or former Heads themselves)!

Another key myth is that inspections are about judging teachers - it is in fact very much about gaining a thorough understanding of the whole school. The fact that all our parents, and all the pupils from Year 5 upwards, were surveyed is a reflection of this. The inspectors spent nearly 3 days with free access to all areas of the school. They spent this time observing lessons in detail, looking at girls’ work, attending assemblies, eating lunch with pupils and visiting extra-curricular clubs. It was telling that the girls got used to the inspectors long before the staff did. I walked over to my Sixth Form when the inspectors were there and one of the prefects simply said ‘Mrs Dent, time for a cup of tea and chillax’. There were even interviews with some of our six year olds who were not only eager to discuss their school but also ensure the inspectors did a ‘good job’.

Amongst the lighter moments was the fact that the catering team produced what I can only define as a daily banquet for the inspectors. ‘An army marches on its stomach’ was the way our chef put it to me – at times I was not sure if this was a good thing or not!

The distinction between myth and reality is a really important one as is so often the case in education. The opportunity to have all aspects of the school reviewed objectively by expert educators is something a Head should embrace, not fear. GCSE, A Level and IB results are a measure of success, but it was incredibly rewarding to read the ISI comments on the exceptional academic achievement of our girls, the calibre of teaching and learning and the strong relationships between staff and pupils. Yes, inspection time is frantic, but the sense of professionalism of the ISI means this is an excellent opportunity to understand how the organisation functions and what makes it special. This is actually invaluable for a new Head.

We are thrilled with our final report which rated The Abbey School as ‘exceptional’ or ‘excellent’ in all categories, but more importantly I am delighted to support a system which is rigorous, thorough and professional and reminds me why we DO have one of the best education systems in the world.

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