Biddy Passmore finds the inspectors drooling over the pound;14,500-a-year Winchester College
Enter a dream world. A world where "academic standards are consistently at the highest level", helped by the "intellectual rapport which exists between teachers and pupils"; where "the behaviour of pupils is unfailingly civilised and conducive to a good and productive working environment" and where "the levels of resourcing appear to be limited only by the aspirations of departments".
This is the world of Winchester College, the pound;14,500-a-year boys' school founded in the 14th century by William of Wykeham and often said to be the most academically distinguished of all boarding schools.
Standards do not appear to be slipping, judging by a report on the 680-pupil school by a team of inspectors from The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) which included the High Master (head) of St Paul's and the Surmaster (deputy head) of Manchester Grammar.
The inspectors found that both public exam results and the classes they saw showed "excellent" levels of attainment. "The boarding house influence, the great flexibility of the Winchester curriculum both formal and extra-curricular ...the quality of teaching, its consistency, its rigour - all combine to produce pupils who are poised, self-confident, articulate and have a genuine intellectual curiosity," they said.
The staff at Winchester have highly talented boys in their charge. When they enter the school at 13, almost 60 per cent of pupils have an IQ of more than 130. All will have taken at least four GCSEs, including all three sciences, by the end of November of their third year (when they are 15). Last year, 50 out of 130 leavers went on to Oxbridge.
The inspectors praise particularly the modern languages department ("results...quite outstanding") and the maths department ("impressive results indeed").
Their only real criticisms are that the use of information technology within and across the curriculum is "patchy and embryonic"; that some rooms in the older buildings are bleak and uninspiring, and that there is no system of formal staff appraisal linked to staff development.
The report arises from one of the first round of inspections started by HMC in 1994 and due to be completed by the year 2000. Inspections are carried out by teams of teachers from HMC schools.