‘Inspectors were on a tight schedule, but they listened’

Having just received Excellent in all areas, Caroline Forgeron, headmistress of Heathcote Preparatory School and Nursery, reflects on the value of school inspections

Inspection is often regarded as the ultimate test for schools. All those policies, lesson observations and self-evaluation forms have clocked up endless hours of preparation. For schools it can be a daunting experience. 

Trying to make sure that every piece of paper is ready to be seen and studied, that pupils’ best efforts are observed and acknowledged, that teachers have the opportunity to perform at their best all within the inspection window. It can feel like a rollercoaster ride that culminates in an official rating, hopefully a good one, at least! Yet how important is a school inspection for the staff, pupils and parents? What do they gain from this intense, jam-packed experience?

In February 2019, Heathcote was inspected by the Independent School Inspectorate (ISI). The ISI is the independent school equivalent of Ofsted and reports to the DfE. Such inspections are external evaluations of schools, undertaken by officials outside of the establishment with a mandate from a national authority. Through these short notice visits to schools, inspectors collect information about the quality and effectiveness of pupils’ education and the care for their welfare, they check compliance to legislation and evaluate the quality of students’ work and progress. 

Furthermore, they are intended to help schools recognise and build on their strengths, and identify and remedy any weaknesses. However, in just a few days’ visit, how much can a team of inspectors really see and how genuine is that experience?

The results

Here at Heathcote, we are absolutely delighted with the inspection findings, which were universally positive, receiving Excellent in all areas. They strongly affirm that Heathcote is a happy and extremely successful school, where children are supported and encouraged, and meet the high aspirations staff have for them.  

Our visiting team of inspectors had merely three days to get a full understanding of the school’s ethos, values, pastoral care, health and safety, pupil achievements and opportunities. Obviously, our children’s safeguarding was their top priority but they also delved deep into the teaching and learning at our school, our ethos and values, assessments and extra-curricular activities. They also looked at children’s spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding, and their artistic and sporting achievements.

The inspectors were on a tight schedule, but they listened. Not just to staff but parents and children too. 

The wisdom of our fellow colleagues peering into our daily lives is worth its weight in gold if executed with congeniality, diplomacy and consideration  

So often, we hear that inspection is just something carried out as a means to categorise schools, a snapshot experience which can instil feelings of injustice and insecurity, demoralisation and disillusionment in any teacher. Yet, the inspection team were experienced, demonstrated a genuine interest in all that we do and were keen to explore and dissect every part of our school to ensure they got the right impression. Some of their comments were: 

● Pupils achieve considerable successes in many spheres of school life. 

● Pupils are highly successful in gaining places at local independent and state grammar schools. 

● There is a positive ‘can do’ mentality throughout the school. 

● Throughout the school, differences [are] effectively invisible with pupils simply enjoying being with each other. 

● Improvements across the school have enabled pupils to develop excellent knowledge, skills and understanding across a wide range of subjects and apply their skills very effectively. 

● Pupils’ success stems from their high levels of motivation. 

● Personable and unfailingly polite, the pupils demonstrate a perceptive awareness of their own self-worth, character, confidence and compassion in line with the school’s aims. 

● Pupils are very thoughtful and reflective. They appreciate the non-material aspects of life, guided very effectively by the robust pastoral programme and the school’s promotion of the Heathcote values. 

For parents our inspection reports affirm to them that the investment they have made in their child’s future by sending them to an independent school has been a wise move. Every day we impress on our children to set their sights high, to dream big and to aspire higher. Such standards are essential for our children if they want to succeed in the world of tomorrow. 

For teachers inspection encourages us to do the same – to ensure everything we do for our young people is the best it can be, that we are constantly turning the wheel of self-evaluation to make sure we learn from what has come before and that what follows suit will be better still.

The wisdom of our fellow colleagues peering into our daily lives is worth its weight in gold if executed with congeniality, diplomacy and consideration. Sometimes it takes an outsider to come and notice what we can’t see.