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Know the criteria and be prepared

Dawn Leggott, former principal lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and independent education consultant, talks to Melanie Butler about her university’s recent inspection

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RIGHT ATTITUDE Dawn Leggot says school leaders should try to enjoy the inspection itself as this will create a positive atmosphere (Courtesy Dawn Leggott)

When was your last inspection and what was your role in relation to it?

We were last inspected for three and a half days in October. As project leader, I was responsible for preparing all the documentation and staff for the inspection and ensuring that all the relevant policies and procedures were in place, known to all staff and being implemented.

When did you start preparing for the inspection?

A whole year beforehand. A colleague from our faculty’s quality team and I attended a very useful pre-inspection briefing at the British Council offices in Manchester in October 2014. Most people seem to attend a pre-inspection briefing a month or two before the inspection, but we certainly found it made a big difference to have attended so far in advance.

Why was that?

At that briefing we found out more about the newly introduced criteria relating to care of under-18s. In the university most of our students are adults, but we do have 17-year-olds on some of our courses, so this new section of the criteria applied to us.

That became my initial focus, as I needed to liaise with colleagues at all levels of the university to ensure that our safeguarding policy and procedures were updated and that relevant staff were informed and trained in them.

The scheme’s requirements are stricter than current UK legislation. For example, our 17-year-olds are taught on adult courses and the ELT teachers are not legally required to be DBS checked, but this is a requirement of the scheme.

What in your experience are the key elements of successful preparation for the inspection?

First and foremost, know the criteria, and don’t assume they are the same as the last time you were inspected. Identify the ones which are currently not met and focus first of all on those which will take the longest time to implement. The self-evaluation templates on the British Council Accreditation Unit’s website proved helpful at this stage.

Involve everyone set to be affected by the inspection early on in the preparation process. In the case of our university, this included not just our ELT teachers and course administrators, but also colleagues from the university’s central HR, marketing, security, estates, international student welfare, accommodation and library services, as well as our international office.

Well-prepared documentation helps the inspectors do the job of assessing whether the criteria are met and enables them to focus more on the extent to which requirements are exceeded and provision might be a strength.

The documentation is, however, just a tool to facilitate this. The inspection is not merely an inspection of documentation – it is important to make sure that all the policies and procedures are known to all relevant staff and actually being implemented. Know your desired outcome. How many strengths are you aiming to achieve and which ones?

How did you prepare for the actual inspection visit itself?

The main thing is to set up a suitable base room which is conveniently located and comfortable, with some stationery, refreshments and easy access to relevant electronic systems, such as the virtual learning environment. We also set up a separate meeting room to give the inspectors greater flexibility in their scheduling.

It is also important to liaise closely with the reporting inspector prior to the visit to help with the planning for the visit. For example, we recommended local accommodation and restaurants. Most inspection documentation can now be sent to inspectors electronically. The reporting inspector will guide you through this process.

What advice would you give to anyone starting to prepare for (re)accreditation now?

Plan well in advance, involve all relevant staff right from the start, identify a project leader whose qualities include attention to detail and who knows your institution well at both a strategic and operational level, and finally try to enjoy the inspection itself, as this will create a positive rather than a tense atmosphere.

The inspectors are there to do a job and they have a very busy schedule, but they are human and approachable. It is well worth putting in the effort. British Council accreditation is an internationally well-respected quality mark which will benefit your organisation regarding both marketing and your international students’ day-to-day experience within your centre.

Dawn Leggott can be contacted on dawn@dawnleggott.co.uk