Safety first

I have been an independent schools inspector since 2004 and have just returned from inspecting a school in Essex. Because I have visited many different schools as a senior leader, I am used to ‘taking the temperature’ fairly quickly and judging whether it is a calm, purposeful and happy environment. The first question we ask ourselves as inspectors – and then, of course, the pupils – is: “Are the children safe?” Indeed, the safety and wellbeing of pupils lie at the very heart of a school’s culture and should be prioritised above all else.

2022 PISA data for 15-year-olds was not encouraging. The UK ranked lower than all other countries in the EU for life satisfaction and respondents had the highest perception of safety risks amongst all OECD countries. Only one country (Turkey) rated lower in the index of feeling safe at school. Incidentally, our teens apparently also spend more time online outside school than in any other country apart from Chile.

The results of the survey completed by pupils during our inspection will not be published, as they form only one part of the evidence collected by inspectors as they observe lessons and activities, study policies, plans, records and risk assessments, and talk to lots of pupils, staff and governors. They then ‘triangulate’ the evidence before reaching judgements. What I can tell you, however, is that the vast majority of our pupils agreed that they felt safe and happy in school, with all parents in Year 7 saying their child was happy – a very encouraging statistic, given the number of different schools from which our pupils join us.

Now, we know that life cannot be happy all of the time, but I do believe that our pupils’ busyness and engagement with a variety of co-curricular activities, including sport, music and drama, supports their sense of healthy well-being. And our focus on the values which underpin a mutually respectful and caring community go a long way towards nurturing a sense of belonging and thus self-esteem and security.

I enjoy visiting and learning from other schools, as it helps me to reflect on my own school. Good ideas are rarely original, and the sharing of good practice can only lead to the improvement of education for all children. Most of all, though, I enjoy ‘coming home’ to LGS.

Best wishes,

John Watson