Rod Grant: Stressful, yes, but also a chance to improve

THE first a school knows of an inspection is when a large white box arrives by courier adorned with the letters HMIe.

There is no mistaking what you are about to open, what the contents will be and what the impact will be on your school's community.

In November 2006, such a box arrived in my school and my stomach literally turned over – indeed, it did several rotations. I felt the blood draining from my face and I sat in my office contemplating how to break the news to staff, pupils, parents, board of governors and my wife.

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The first thoughts were on "damage limitation", because every head knows no teacher, and by definition, no school, really wants to be "inspected", judged and reported upon with a published report available to all. It is human nature to immediately assume that you are going to do badly, that newspaper headlines will read "independent school fails inspection spectacularly", that you face publicly humiliation and a jobseeker's allowance.

The widely reported and tragic suicide of Irene Hogg highlights the significant worries that perpetuate throughout school staffrooms and management teams when an inspection is announced.

However, all of my fears were unfounded. It is uncomfortable to be scrutinised and there are drawbacks to be being judged over such a short period of time once every seven years, but I actually enjoyed the process immensely. I found the inspection team to be supportive, caring, and keen both to advise and listen. Above all, they gave me the opportunity to evaluate their performance and to counter any critical findings.

HMIe comes in for often unwarranted criticism because its attendance is largely unwelcome and stressful, but the process allowed my school to take a long hard look at itself and in doing so, we improved. If the process improves the education of Scotland's children then it is necessary. However, we do have to ensure that the process becomes less stressful, while maintaining the necessary rigour. The new inspection model has in many ways sought to remove the stress and allow schools a greater input into the final report. This is to be welcomed.

• Rod Grant is headmaster of Clifton Hall independent school near Edinburgh.