Saturday, 14 November 2009

Preliminary reflections on Interim Inspection under ISI3

I got the phone call at 10:00 am on Tuesday morning.
"An inspection team will be arriving in a week's time to inspect your Early Years, the Prep and the Senior School. Your reporting inspector expects to receive your pre-inspection documentation by 5:00 pm. He is on a training course today and will not be available until 4:00 pm, when he will call to outline precisely what he wants from you."
Given that the new cycle of ISI3 inspections does not start until 2010, I think that we can be forgiven for finding this all a bit of a surprise. We were expecting the call in January, but I was somewhat taken aback to be one of the forty lucky schools selected for the pilot scheme running this term!

My senior management team went into overdrive, collated the policies, procedures and completed all the forms - they were simply outstanding. The great advantage of being a large organisation is that we can pull key staff together to solve a large problem without impacting on the day-to-day operation of a school - how a smaller school would cope, I have no idea.

Ten days later, it is now all over. It was a very positive experience. We await the full report , but we are hopeful of a clean bill of health in all three areas of the inspection. It is likely that we fell short in one or two areas of regulatory record keeping, and now have more robust systems in place and our policies are up to date.

I like ISI3. I am a convert.
Its main advantage is that it is all over and done with so quickly. The impact of ISI3 Interim Inspections falls almost exclusively on senior management. Very few teachers even met the three inspectors allocated to our three senior schools with an total population of over 1000 pupils - they saw only twelve lessons. Most importantly, ISI3 has not taken up weeks and months of energy-sapping worry. There is no time for an impending inspection to hang over the school like a cloud. Yes, the paperwork needs to be there a moment's notice, but so what? There is very little documentation for documentation's sake here. There are good reasons for having most of the policies and procedures in place.

We have lost most of the consultancy aspects in the interim inspection, but I am not convinced that ISI1 and ISI2 really told us much about our schools that we didn't know. The loss of this aspect is overplayed. Under ISI3 the "how many angels can dance on a pin-head"-type arguments about whether a school is "GOOD", "VERY GOOD" or "OUTSTANDING", which caused so much angst in the past, have gone - I hope that parents, governors and school managements do not feel short-changed. Instead, inspectors provide a brief commentary on the school, which at least avoids the invidious comparisons with the rival school down the road.

Now that ISI3 Interim Inspections have shifted the focus from consultancy to regulation, there are voices within HMC who are asking why we still need ISI. Having been through the process I think it would be a mistake to abandon ISI and move to an OFSTED regime. It was not only reassuring, but postively helpful to have Inspectors who understood independent schools. Their approach was thorough and constructive - helping us to comply with the regulations and to improve as a school - I am not sure that OFSTED would be so understanding.

Well, it's over - we're up to date - and now everyone can focus on improving teaching and learning, which afterall is what schools are really about.

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