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Independent Schools and Ofsted: Essential Reading



If you want to know what to expect during an inspection there’s a lot of information freely available out there. Inspection handbooks, guidance documents, Independent School Standards. School leaders sometimes just don’t have the time to search, sift, and read through every available document to find out exactly what it is they need to know. As a school improvement partner, I help independent schools inspected by Ofsted to identify the key areas they need to focus on in order to improve their educational provision. I run workshops and training programmes for school leaders to help them better understand the requirements of Ofsted's 2019 Education Inspection Framework. And I provide useful time-saving resources to help leaders of independent schools develop the systems and procedures that ensure continued compliance with the Independent School Standards.

But for those who have the time to read through everything - I’ve collated a list of essential reading material. You’ll find titles, links, and a little blurb for each document.

I hope it saves you time.


The Education Inspection Framework

The Education Inspection Framework (for use from September 2019) sets out the principles that apply to inspection, and the main judgements that inspectors make when carrying out inspections at independent schools (as well as maintained schools, academies, further education and skills providers, and registered early years settings in England).

The framework reflects relevant legislation for each type of setting and is accompanied by an inspection handbook for each of the four remits:

  1. Early Years

  2. Maintained Schools and Academies

  3. Non-association Independent Schools (see below)

  4. Further Education and Skills.

You can find the Education Inspection Framework, here.


Non-association Independent School Inspection Handbook

This handbook describes the main activities carried out during inspections of non-association independent schools in England. It sets out the evaluation criteria that inspectors use to make their judgements and on which they report. These include the extent to which the school meets the requirements of the Independent School Standards.

Although it is primarily a guide for inspectors on how to carry out school inspections, this handbook is made available to schools and other organisations to ensure that they are informed about the processes and procedures of inspection. It applies to school inspections to be carried out from September 2019 under the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). This document tells you what to expect during a standard inspection.

The handbook has four parts:

  1. How non-association independent schools will be inspected. This contains information about the process before, during and after the inspection.

  2. The evaluation schedule. This contains the evaluation criteria inspectors use to make the graded judgements about schools and includes examples of the kinds of evidence and activities used by inspectors to make their judgements.

  3. Applying the EIF in different contexts. This contains guidance on how to apply the EIF in specific contexts and provisions

  4. Inspecting against the independent school standards and other requirements. This contains technical information about the standards.

Please note that this handbook applies only to standard inspections. It does not cover the range of additional inspections that Ofsted carry out of independent schools: emergency, progress monitoring, pre-registration and material change inspections. Guidance on these inspections is available in the Handbook For Additional Inspections Of Independent Schools (see above).


You can find the Non-association Independent School Inspection Handbook, here.

Handbook For Additional Inspections Of Independent Schools


All independent schools are inspected at the direction of the Department for Education (the DfE), which is the registration authority for independent schools. Therefore, Ofsted may be commissioned to carry out an inspection of an independent school at any time.

This handbook sets out the main activities for carrying out ‘additional inspections’. These are inspections of independent schools that occur outside of the normal inspection cycle. It sets out the purpose of each type of additional inspection and the legal basis for carrying them out, explaining the judgements that inspectors will make and on which they repo:

  1. Pre-registration – before an independent school is officially registered by the DfE, they commission Ofsted to check if they are likely to meet the Independent School Standards.

  2. Material Change – after a school has applied for permission from the DfE to make a change to their existing registration, for example, by taking on additional premises or increasing the maximum number of pupils they can have on roll, Ofsted are commissioned to check if the school will continue to meet the standards relevant to the material change.

  3. Progress Monitoring – after a school has had a standard inspection during which they failed to demonstrate compliance with some of the Independent School Standards, Ofsted may be sent to check if the school has addressed those un-met standards.

  4. Emergency – if the DfE have received a complaint or any intelligence which suggests that the safeguarding and welfare of pupils might be at risk, Ofsted are sent to check compliance with the relevant standards. This type of inspection can also take place when the DfE suspects that a school has closed.

Each part of this handbook covers one type of additional inspection. It’s primarily a guide for inspectors on how to carry out additional inspections of independent schools (‘schools’). However, it is made available to schools and other organisations to ensure that they are informed about the process and procedures of inspection. It seeks to balance the need for consistency in inspections with the flexibility required to respond to the individual circumstances of each school.

It should not be regarded as a set of inflexible rules but as an account of the procedures that normally govern inspection. Inspectors will exercise their professional judgement when using the handbook. It applies to additional inspections carried out from September 2019.

You can find the Handbook For Additional Inspections Of Independent Schools, here.


Inspecting Safeguarding In Early Years, Education And Skills Settings

This guidance sets out the main points that inspectors need to consider when inspecting safeguarding in early years, education and skills settings. It needs to be read alongside the Education Inspection Framework (see above) and the individual remit inspection handbooks.

You can find the Inspecting Safeguarding In Early Years, Education And Skills Settings document, here.


Inspecting The Curriculum

This document explains how inspectors will assess the ‘quality of education’ - the most significant change from the previous inspection framework. It combines aspects of the previous key judgements of ‘teaching, learning and assessment’ and ‘outcomes’ to provide a more holistic view of standards, particularly focusing on the curriculum. For those who are worried about deep dives, this document gives a clear outline. Please note that the document focuses primarily on inspecting schools.

You can find the Inspecting The Curriculum document, here.


The Independent School Standards

The Independent School Standards are statutory instruments that set out the minimum standards that all independent schools (including academies and free schools) must meet. The 2014 Regulations replace the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010 (2010 Regulations), introducing new requirements to raise standards in education and safeguard children.

This is the most important document for independent school leaders as it prescribes the standards they must meet in the following areas:

  • Quality of education provided

  • Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils

  • Welfare, health and safety of pupils

  • Suitability of staff, supply staff, and proprietors

  • remises of and accommodation at schools

  • Provision of information

  • Manner in which complaints are handled

  • Quality of leadership in and management of schools

Failure to comply can result in loss of registration with the DfE and school closure.

You can find the Independent School Standards document, here.


The Independent School Standards Guidance

This is a non-statutory guidance document from the Department for Education (DfE). It exists to help proprietors and others understand their obligations under the independent school standards. Inspectors will take this guidance into account when reporting to the Secretary of State on the extent to which the independent school standards are being met, or are likely to be met, in relation to an independent school.

The aim of this document is to provide supplementary guidance on best practice in complying with the standards and sets out the department’s understanding of them.

This guidance should be read alongside the standards themselves. It is not intended to be a full explanation of every area of the standards’ requirements: rather it seeks to give some helpful additional detail in some areas for which questions are sometimes raised by schools.

You can find the Independent School Standards Guidance, here.


Is There Anything More I Can Help With?

If you still need further support and advice, sign up for my next training workshop, today. Attendees gain actionable advice, useful tools, and clarity on the Independent School Standards and Ofsted’s requirements.

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For more bespoke training, tailored to your school’s needs and circumstances, get in touch. I will work closely with your leadership team to develop proven strategies which, when implemented correctly, ensure consistent compliance with the standards.



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