It should come as no real surprise, but schools are thinking about leaving Ofsted. Simply put, some school leaders are really unhappy with Ofsted and the way it operates. Whether it's because they think that the outcome of an inspection was unfair, or they think that what was written in the final version of their Ofsted report does not reflect what was presented to them in the final feedback meeting. It’s infuriating. However, the fact remains that it’s too late to do anything about it once the final report is issued. Then, of course, there are others who simply don't like a system that involves grades. So, where can they turn to for an alternative to Ofsted? Enter the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).
Leaving Ofsted for the Independent Schools Inspectorate
The Independent Schools Inspectorate is another body that inspects independent schools. Importantly, they don’t use grades. They use a written description. For example, they'll say the quality of education is good or it's excellent, and so on.
As already mentioned, some people prefer that.
Personally, I think if I were a school leader, there is only one reason why I might want to leave Ofsted. It's the way they inspect the Independent School standards.
During Ofsted inspections, the inspectors report how well a school complies with the standards. Compliance with the standards is integrated into the inspection report. It affects your grade. And this bothers me a lot. Because the way the framework is written, it's impossible to get a ‘Good’ grade if you don't meet all of the Independent School standards.
So, a school might be performing well on Ofsted's inspection framework, but because they don't meet all of the Independent School standards, they will fail to get a ‘Good’ grade. And failing to get a ‘Good’ grade is a pretty big deal for independent schools. Since it affects their referrals from local authorities.
Most non-association independent schools rely on referrals from local authorities to get pupils in their schools. Local authorities will start pulling pupils out or stop referring if you get a poor Ofsted grade.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate reports on compliance separately. So you get an inspection about the quality of education that you provide, and a separate regulatory inspection about compliance with the standards.
This seems to be the main reason for withdrawing from Ofsted. And a lot of schools are considering it. Because it can be done.
Breaking up Is Never Easy
Should a school wish to leave Ofsted and move over to the Independent Schools Inspectorate, their leadership team would need significant support.
Firstly, they would need support with collating, digesting, and understanding the volume of information about the process of leaving Ofsted. There’s a lot that needs to happen in order for them to be able to switch inspectorates.
And then secondly, they would need help to ensure that they meet all the Independent School Standards, because the Independent Schools Inspectorate will want to check their compliance before they jump on board.
So, as a school improvement consultant working with a non-association independent school transitioning from Ofsted to the Independent Schools Inspectorate, what follows is the type of support I offer.
1) Be in Ofsted’s Good Books
Ironically, schools need to be in good standing with Ofsted before they can shack up with the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The breakup needs to be amicable.
So that's the first step. They need to make sure they get to a grade two or better on their most recent inspection.
Alternatively, if they've had an inspection and they didn't meet the standards, they have to wait until they have another inspection in which Ofsted declares that they have met the standards before they can even think of moving. This is a relationship with many strings attached.
2) Find the Right Association
The second step in this breakup is to find the right association to join.
There are seven associations that make up the Independent Schools Council. Schools belonging to any of these associations are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
So it's about getting into one of those associations. Some of them are for girls schools only, some of them are for mixed schools, some of them are for prep schools, and some are for all through schools.
Moreover, membership is not for the school as a whole. It is the head teacher who joins the association. Or the bursar, because there's an association for bursars. Or the governing body because there's an association for governing bodies. In other words, it's about finding out which one is the right one for you and then going through the application process.
Are You Ready to Leave Ofsted?
If switching away from Ofsted to the Independent Schools Inspectorate is something you’re considering as a school, get in touch.
My job as a school improvement partner is to explain and support you through the whole procedure. Then help to ensure you meet all the Independent School Standards in preparation for your first regulatory inspection with ISI.
As a non-association independent school, you can consider yourselves lucky. Unlike mainstream schools, you’re not stuck with Ofsted.
You have an alternative.
The choice is yours.