Reflection on the inspection process


Before the recent half-term break, Northampton High School was inspected under the Independent Schools Inspectorate’s (ISI) new framework, which came into effect from September 2023. Under the Framework 2023, schools no longer receive a traditional single-word judgement or grade; instead pupil experience is meticulously scrutinised under four key areas: leadership and management, quality of education, pupils’ physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing, pupils’ social and economic education and contribution to society.

The inspection took place over 2.5 days and entailed a multifaceted approach. Inspectors observed scores of lessons, engaged in collaborative lesson walks with school leaders, met with hundreds of students and a wide range of teaching and non-teaching staff, and held discussions with the School Governing Body and the GDST Senior Management Team. Additionally, questionnaires were sent out to parents, pupils from Year 5 and above, and staff, and responses were analysed.

The inspectors were tasked to gather evidence for evaluating pupils’ progress and outcomes, while assessing how teachers fostered opportunities for intellectual, creative and physical engagement within and beyond the classroom, nurturing self-motivated and independent learners. At the heart of this approach lay a strong emphasis on acquiring new knowledge, increasing understanding, and developing skills tailored to individual abilities across various subjects. In other words, the inspectors were trying to ascertain and delineate the learning ethos and culture fabric of our school, aiming to identify what sets us apart and makes us unique.

The inspection process prompted me to recall and contemplate the proverb: ‘Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick tempered displays folly’. This age-old proverb raises questions of values, moral behaviour, and the essence of right conduct. It resonated with me deeply as the inspectors endeavoured to define and understand the collective identity of Northampton High School and gain insight into what it is like to be a pupil within our precincts.

The proverb points to the importance of ‘great understanding’ and its connection to the virtue of patience. In the absence of a nuanced understanding, similar to the challenge faced by the ISI inspectors, hasty judgments and misinterpretations may ensue. It is only by getting ‘under the skin’ of something, and dedicating time to acquire a proper understanding of a person and their situation thoroughly that we can exercise genuine empathy for them.

To this end, understanding entails thoughtful and deliberate consideration of a situation, leading to appropriate responses. A fool is not necessarily a person who lacks intelligence but someone who reacts impulsively or loses their temper at the slightest provocation – or even without provocation at all. Reacting from pure instinct without having gathered all the facts is pure ‘folly’.

Furthermore, it behoves us to distinguish between knowledge and understanding. While schools impart knowledge, and pupils spend a lot of time getting to know a lot of stuff but without understanding the meaning or application of that knowledge, it can be of little use. Knowing is static, while understanding is active, describing the ability to analyse and place those facts in the context of a bigger picture or within a broader framework. It bridges the gap between knowledge and wisdom. When you comprehend the information you have learned, or knowledge you have acquired, you understand it. When you understand the knowledge and learn to apply it discerningly in decision-making and negotiations, you gain wisdom. It is also true that knowledge can exist without wisdom, but not the other way around. One can be knowledgeable without being wise.

In summary, the inspection process served as a poignant reminder that the right understanding serves as a precursor to acting and behaving wisely. This necessitates patience in listening, seeking informed perspectives, and refraining from hasty ill-tempered reactions. It is a quality essential for fostering greater empathy, deeper kindness, and wisdom in our interactions with others and in navigating the complexities of the world.

Dr Lee