The Inspection Framework for Independent Schools

When it comes to choosing a school for your children, their safety and the quality of the education they are provided with are your top priorities. Fantastic facilities and extracurricular opportunities are undoubtedly bonuses but it is the former that families need assurance on and that needs to be regulated. School should be a secure and nurturing environment in which a child can flourish.

Staff, facilities and resources should all be safe and of good quality to provide such an environment. Legally schools are regularly inspected by an external governing body for safeguarding purposes. The purpose of these inspections is to provide a reliable report on school practices, ensure that pupils are taught by high quality teachers and also that all staff have passed the relevant checks and are safe to work as school staff.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) is the body that oversees government-funded schools. But who regulates independent schools? The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is the body that inspects and regulates fee-paying schools and like Ofsted, it is government approved. In this post we provide an overview of the ISI and how independent schools are inspected and regulated.

How does the Independent Schools Inspectorate operate?

The ISI is the government approved independent inspectorate for independent schools, quality assured on behalf of the Department for Education. And just like Ofsted, ISI aims to achieve excellence in attainment and safeguarding for pupils. Standardised reports on all independent (I understand this may be a keyword; if so keep private)  schools are produced by the ISI every three years. Reporting is with reference to contributory factors such as the curriculum, teaching and pastoral care.

The reports provide parents, teachers and educational organisations with standards to follow, impartial advice and a consistent and objective schema through which to measure and interpret a school’s performance. Inspections are performed with either two days’ notice, or occasionally with no notice. For this reason, you can be confident that the information that they provide is an accurate and representative insight into how the school in question currently operates.

The current types of inspection are: educational quality inspections (EQIs) which include a focused compliance inspection and regulatory compliance inspections (RCIs). RCIs report on a school’s compliance with the Independent School Standards Regulations and Educational Provision provides a measure of individual attainment and personal development. Every organisation that is part of the ISI is subject to such inspections and receives these reports (which can be accessed by the public). The three individual categories under which schools are evaluated where relevant are:

  • Educational Provision
  • Boarding Welfare
  • Early Years Foundation Stage

The Early Years Foundation Stage evaluates the standard to which schools providing nursery, Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 education are operating and performing. Boarding Welfare is a further level of scrutiny for schools which provide boarding facilities. Further information about how boarding schools are regulated can be found on the ISI website. All of these criteria assess achievement

The ISI values are specifically weighted to compare a school’s stated aims with assessable outcomes. Standards like welfare provision or overall attainment are standardised by the government to ensure that there is no great disparity. Whereas, for example, any school which seeks to nurture a specific religious ethos are rewarded for showing consistent adherence to their unique aims rather than penalised for deviating from the standardised school curriculum.

One area of focus in which ISI differs slightly from Ofsted is in its focus on attainment and welfare as opposed to focussing on exam results alone. In fact, Ofsted is increasingly moving towards a system of administration for state schools that is similar to the ISI and focuses on welfare and attainment, rather than simply looking at exam data as the most significant measure of a school’s success.

Who are the inspectors?

ISI inspectors are highly trained experts. Many are currently working in senior positions in independent schools, and some are subject specialists with a background in education. Many have further training and expertise in a specific aspect of education, such as early years. Inspectors are also monitored and placed at schools to which they have no significant connections.

ISI: Types of inspection

The two types of inspection – the regulatory compliance inspection (RCI) and the educational quality inspection (EQI) – differ slightly but are implemented using the same principles: first hand evaluation and objectivity. Each inspection takes place over a two day period and use information drawn directly from pupil feedback, consultation with teachers and the board of governors and anyone else perceived as relevant as well as onsite observations.

RCIs consist of a brief overview of the school’s pupils broken down according to class size, sex and age range and an outline of the school’s mission statement. Schools are expected to meet every requirement which form a set of minimum standards by which to understand a school’s performance. Each category of assessment is deemed either met or not met. There have previously been different types of evaluation, including the Integrated Inspection. This consisted of a longer, more comprehensive document but has recently been replaced by the Educational Quality Inspections (EQIs). The ISI’s website has some more information on these changes.

You may be keen to find out when your potential school is having their next inspection so that you can find out more. Unfortunately as schools are only provided with a couple of days’ notice of inspections, no schools will be able to provide future inspection date. The latest inspection for Cranmore is the Integrated Inspection. We are thrilled to report that all essential criteria were either met or exceeded and its main findings were that Cranmore has an excellent level of academic achievement, particularly in mathematics and linguistic ability. In terms of personal development, pupils were found to have an excellent level of social and cultural development within a caring atmosphere overall.

School inspections are a vital part of ensuring that educational establishments are working as effectively as possible and producing well-rounded children. A strong endorsement from ISI shows that Cranmore can help your child achieve their full potential, in a responsive and nurturing environment.