Ofsted give mixed verdict on independent school inspectorates

Ofsted has delivered a mixed verdict on the organisations which inspect independent schools – after not being able to watch any of their inspectors in action and only reading 10 out of hundreds of their inspection reports.

The School Inspection Service (SIS), which oversees a branch of religious schools as well as Steiner schools, was assessed via scrutiny of just three inspection reports after the Department for Education (DfE) told Ofsted not to carry out on-site monitoring this year.

The DfE also requested no on-site monitoring of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which oversees members of the Independent Schools Council.

Seven “regulatory compliance” inspections by the ISI were looked at by Ofsted instead – which check that teaching, pupil progress, safeguarding, accommodation and leadership are of a “good” standard, but do not look more closely into a school’s performance.

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When asked why there had been no on-site visits by Ofsted to watch ISI and SIS inspectors at work, the DfE said compliance inspections and “education quality” inspections were now being dealt with separately under a new framework for the ISI.

“This year the Independent Schools Inspectorate has a new inspection framework that separates inspections on compliance with the independent school regulations from educational quality inspections.

“So far, Ofsted has monitored the new compliance inspections and reported solely on those.”

Yet in two reports published today, Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, said his team had not been commissioned to carry out any on-site monitoring of the ISI or SIS inspectors for this year at all.

This year the ISI carried out 342 inspections. Ofsted looked at seven ISI compliance letters and found the organisation was inspecting schools perfectly in line with their own regulations, according to Wilshaw.

But Ofsted inspectors found shortcomings in the three inspection reports looked at from the SIS. These three reports were a “small sample” of the 47 inspections done by the SIS this year, said Wilshaw.

He wrote that the content of one report would suggest that the overall grade for pupil personal development should be “requires improvement” rather than “good” and that another report also issued recommendations in a way that was “not in keeping” with the SIS’s own guidance.

The SIS inspects several groups of independent schools including the Focus Learning Trust, run by a Christian sect called the Plymouth Brethren, which was under investigation by the DfE over its teaching practices, as well as Steiner Waldorf schools, which have attracted controversy for philosophies based around reincarnation, and schools in the Cognita Group, which was set up by former head of Ofsted Chris Woodhead in 2004 and encountered financial losses and investigation in its early years.

one report suggests the overall grade should be “requires improvement” rather than “good”

The DfE would not tell Schools Week why the SIS and ISI had not been commissioned to carry out on-site monitoring inspections, nor whether Ofsted would produce a report on the more in-depth ISI inspections soon.

Along with the good findings for the seven ISI regulatory compliance inspections, the rest of Ofsted’s report on the three SIS inspections found they all “exemplified how the independent school standards are met.”

Ofsted has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the DfE and the independent inspectorates to review a “sample of the evidence” collected during ISI and SIS inspections each year and report these back to the Secretary of State, Ofsted told Schools Week.


This article was updated to make clear that financial issues faced by the Cognita Group were historical and not current.


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  1. Jo Wright

    I think ISI have it right. They note all the good things, spot what can be improved and give a best fit judgement from my experience. Ofsted find the same but give the grading according to the least favourable finding and create a dominos effect of disaster usually as a result.