Beyond Hyperbole – what excellent really means?

Screenshot_6 Our March 2014 ISI Inspection report is now published.  You can find the report here on the ISI website, though at the time of writing it was not showing, on our own website here at http://www.clairescourt.com/academic/inspection-reports,  and by pdf download here. To receive a report this good is professionally very rewarding and affirming. We work really hard from top to toe within Claires Court to meet our aims and commitments to parents, to keep at the core of our focus the children we teach. As the Inspectors make clear, we are a complex school, and there are some systems that are different so that we can deliver appropriately for the age, gender and context of the school or geographical setting. So please help us shout this set of judgments from the roof-tops; for a broad ability school from Nursery to Sixth Form to achieve Excellent judgements for Pupils’ Achievements and Learning, Curricular and Extra-curricular provision, Teaching, SMSC, Pastoral care and Welfare, Health and Safety is almost unheard of in our sector.

As one of the largest proprietary schools in the UK, to be judged Excellent for Governance too seems to set us firmly above our contemporaries. At both primary and secondary levels, we compete with both state and independent schools. Some parents have suggested to me that it is a shame ISI do not use the Ofsted Judgement of ‘Outstanding’. As I point out at the outset of this Blog post, Excellent has a variety of synonyms, of which one is ‘Outstanding’.

In relation to our rivals in the Thames Valley we believe we are an outstanding school, and in many ways that means ahead of them in terms of quality outcomes for our children. Some schools believe they can only achieve excellent results by selection, fostering the more able in a hotter house, so to speak. I recognise that is a model that delivers excellence, but often at a cost, by for example forcing a narrowing of a curriculum at the end of Year 8. Research evidence increasingly shows that children are often not cognitively ready to make subject choices at age 14, and thus are even more unlikely to benefit from narrowing their curriculum age 12/13, and find they are let go subjects such as Art, Technology and Drama before they really have developed a minimum level of mastery in them. Few if any of the schools that work in the middle and lower ability echelons rise above the ‘needs improvement’ judgement, previously satisfactory, and in many ways, we know why.

In a country that values academic achievement above all, weak achievement is deemed as failure. That’s not our way at Claires Court, and in a year when so many of of our efforts have achieved national acclaim, most recently by the Independent Schools Association in awarding us the Excellence award for work in the Community, as well as shortlisting in the last 3 for overall excellence and excellence for achievement in ICT. For the Summer Term 2014, we are back to the day job, working with our pupils and parents to secure progress and achievement for this Academic year. I know we still have much to do; being excellent is not the same as being perfect, and the ‘laurels’ we have been awarded are for display, not for sitting on. As almost all of the staff I lead will be happy to confirm, neither my brother or I are complacent in any way about the work we have to do to secure the same success over the next a12 months and in the years to come.

And our challenges are clear to face. We need to unite our community behind our efforts to build a new campus for our school, yet maintain full confidence that our current offer of excellent provision will be maintained. Rising costs for our parents put significant pressures on their family budgets, and yet other services elsewhere are being cut so savagely (children and adolescent mental health for example) that our school needs to grow these services to ensure those most vulnerable, our children, are looked after well. I have written elsewhere that perhaps our proudest claim is that we have recognised that we as school must cover as many of our families’ needs as we can, and that includes wrap around care to holiday club, digital innovation to careers advice and employment qualifications, special needs guidance to full counselling services for those in need. So ISI – thanks for the excellent report, and we’ll see you again in 6 years time – that’s the bonus a school gets for maintaining excellence and being fully compliant to the Independent School Standards Regulations.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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