Royal Grammar School


The (In)Spectre at the Feast

The (In)Spectre at the Feast

It’s an odd thing, going through an inspection. This week’s inspection of the RGS by a team from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is the fifth I have experienced as a Head, the second here. But you never quite get used to it. You know it’s going to come, so are preparing background materials for months ahead. Then you get the phone call with a week’s notice: and suddenly there is still a mountain of material to produce, stuff which couldn’t be done far in advance or maybe only occurred to you to do when you actually had a starting date. Thus, after putting a few rainforests’-worth of paper through the printers and copiers, we had all the material prepared for the inspectors. 

And then, as far as is possible, normal life is meant to carry on so they can observe it. To be sure, they spend a lot of the time (far too much in the 21st Century, because the world had gone mad) on regulatory matters. No one would argue that we don’t need policies to ensure that children are properly safeguarded: but when you have more than 400 regulations dictating how independent schools should operate, including location and number of washbasins, precise wording in certain policies and specific instructions on how and where certain things are filed and labelled, you are getting into some crazy space.

Eventually the team was indeed free to spend a couple of days soaking up school life, watching lessons, activities, talking to students, looking at books – all of school life. That is a surreal experience. It’s essential that we give them that picture of real school life - yet all the time there’s someone hovering and watching what you are doing, or, at least, you think there might be at any moment. Truly the (in)spectre at the feast, hence the corny pun in the title of this blog.

As this blog goes up on the website, the team has left. They’ve given their report orally to governors and senior staff and the whole school has understandably breathed a huge sigh of relief. There’s no pretending there isn’t pressure in an inspection. It’s about far more than watching our Ps and Qs, of course. Inspection’s a high-stakes business: any school wants to be fairly judged and see credit given for all that it does, and there cannot help but be a fair measure of anxiety bubbling away just below the surface throughout the period of inspection. Frankly, if we didn’t feel like that, we probably wouldn’t be caring enough. 

We certainly care at the RGS. Staff, teaching and support, and students alike showed their pride in the school and were exemplary. As for the report … I‘m not allowed to say anything! Christmas being so close (hurrah!), I guess we won’t receive the formal report in writing before the New Year. But I am confident that it will give due credit to the huge strengths of the RGS. 

So here I would just like to pay tribute and convey my thanks to parents who sent good wishes and wrote so supportively in the online questionnaire, amazing the inspection team with the high rates of satisfaction expressed; to the governors who made themselves available to be questioned, probed and then reported back to; to the support staff who in every respect made sure the school was both shining and running with amazing efficiency so that the teaching and extracurricular life could almost literally hum; to the teachers who in any case provide examples of, and inspiration to, excellence day in, day out, who maintained and even improved on that remarkable record this week; and to the students who are just lovely, a credit to their school, and a source of some amazement to the inspection team who couldn’t get over how talented and modest, hardworking and charming they are.

Thanks to all.

Bernard Trafford