Schools: A Capital Education

Standard Practice

Vanessa Ward, Chief Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), explains how the inspections process has evolved and what parents should know


Which schools does the ISI inspect?
We inspect independent schools that are members of the seven associations brought together by the Independent Schools Council. That covers most pupils in independent schools. Any independent schools that aren’t members of those associations are inspected by Ofsted. Regardless of who inspects them, every independent school must adhere to the Independent School Standards. These are set by Parliament and regulated by the Department for Education.

How does the inspection process work?
All independent schools undergo a routine inspection every three years. The ISI has a framework for how we carry out those inspections, which we refresh at the end of each six-year inspection cycle.

The Department for Education may also commission other types of inspections outside of this routine cycle. This can happen if:

  1. The school wants to make a material change, such as creating a sixth form or adding to the number of pupils in the school.
  2. A progress monitoring inspection is needed to follow up on a school that didn’t meet the Standards in a previous inspection.
  3. The Department has concerns about a school, possibly as the result of complaints, and asks us to inspect the area to which the concern relates.

When does the school find out the outcome?
One of our four core principles is ‘collaboration’, which means there’s lots of communication between the reporting inspector and the school throughout the inspection. We share provisional feedback at the end of the inspection, then send our draft report to the school to check for factual accuracy. After quality assurance, the final report goes to the school. It’s published on our website 10 days later.

What happens if standards aren’t met?
We notify the Department for Education, which decides on next steps. These could include asking the school to draft an action plan setting out how it will rectify the issue(s) and by when. The Department will then ask us to evaluate the plan, and – at an appropriate time afterwards – commission us to carry out a progress monitoring inspection. It’s important that schools have the time they need to put things right before we go back. Your current framework came into force in September. What do parents need to know about it? There are two changes parents may be interested in:

  1. We now inspect and report through the lens of pupil wellbeing, as defined by the Children’s Act 2004. We’ve grouped all the standards under headings from that definition, as well as under ‘Leadership, management and governance’. This helps schools articulate everything they’re doing in those areas, which we hope also aligns with what parents would like to know.
  2. Previously, we had two types of routine inspection – so, one of each per six-year cycle. Now, we have just one type. This should make it easier to see clear threads running across a school’s reports, including important factors like how it provides for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

Do you have any reassurance for parents concerned about the impact of inspections on schools? Another of our core principles is ‘manageability’, both for the school and for the inspection team. We know inspections are an event for schools, but we don’t want them to prepare specifically or do anything differently. We want to see business as usual.

‘Proportionality’ is a core principle too. This means that if the inspection team considers there may be an issue, they will assess if it’s a oneoff, very minor oversight or part of a systemic problem. If it’s the former, inspectors will consider if those weaknesses amount to a failure to meet one or more of the Standards.

Our principles have always underpinned what we do, but we’ve taken the opportunity to articulate them really clearly in the new framework. For example, part of ‘manageability’ is making sure there aren’t unintended consequences, like schools uploading huge amounts of data just before the inspection. Instead, we want to help schools develop effective quality assurance processes over time that also support our inspections.

To find out more, visit: