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Headmaster’s blog 6 January 2012

January 6, 2012

Beware of ‘Greeks’ bearing gifts!

I am writing this on Epiphany – the day Orthodox Churches more closely associate with Christmas and the giving of gifts. Today we are sharing with our parents a gift received at the more traditional Christmas gift-giving time – the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI) report. We truly believe that this is a gift to be cherished and not dreaded as the Trojans feared when they received the gift of the Trojan horse from the Greeks of Ancient times!

Not unlike the setting of the Trojan / Greek war, we had a long wait before the inspectors came. It wasn’t quite the ten years of this interminable war but it was actually six years to the day when they returned. There was no ‘horse’ to deceive them as, unlike previous the previous inspection model (‘seek and find’), we were encouraged to ‘show and tell’. This didn’t mean that the inspectors were not thorough or insightful with their questions and investigations but it did allow us to show off what we felt was particularly good about Ballard and also to declare in our self-evaluation where we felt things could improve yet further.

The report can be read in full on our website (and there’s also a shortened version by way of highlights) and it’s overwhelmingly positive and complimentary. There are three relatively minor recommendations – all of which we are already acting on – but the bulk of the findings point to the positive, friendly, atmosphere in the school as well as the rich wealth of opportunity the pupils have here. The inspectors even echoed the pupils’ report that they enjoyed the school lunches!

If I have a gripe at all it’s with the lack of any overall grading. Ofsted inspections use a clear grading system and our Early Years (nursery to reception children) received the top ‘mark’ – outstanding – on each of the four judgements.  The rest of the school was inspected by the ISI (and this team of inspectors was even being inspected by an observer as they inspected us!). The ISI follow the same stringent regulations and inspection framework used by Ofsted but their judgements are not as stark.  Words such as ‘excellent’, ‘rich’, ‘creative’, ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ do appear but only as adjectives in descriptions rather than as overall assessments. To use GCSE grading, the Early Years have a clear A* whilst the school as a whole could be said to have achieved ‘at the highest grade’ without it being specified!

Despite this small caveat, we found the process and the outcome to be tremendously beneficial and part of our on-going appraisal of the school, its staff, the pupils, our facilities and educational programme. We now have much to live up to when the next  inspection arrives – probably not for another six years!

Alastair Reid

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