ISI’s roots lie in the professional associations which form the Independent Schools Council (ISC). While responsibility for statutory inspection rested elsewhere, as part of their support to members and to maintain the prestige of the group, some associations provided accreditation and review services. The purpose was to ensure that schools applying for membership were of sufficient quality on entry and thereafter continued to maintain high educational standards.
Inception - 1999
In around 1999, the associations resolved that their various informal quality assurance arrangements should be merged and continue under the auspices of the ISC. Ofsted had been formed in 1992 to monitor standards in education; local authorities continued to have statutory responsibility for the welfare of children in accommodation, including boarding. In order to avoid the burden of a dual system, the ISC made representations to the government to establish a single inspection regime suitable for independent schools. It offered to adopt an inspection framework similar to that employed by Ofsted and use Ofsted approved inspectors, but there would be variation in detail and emphasis to reflect the independence of the sector and requirements of the associations.
The Department for Education, then known as the DfEE, cautiously accepted a possible role for independent inspections. Terms were outlined which also explained the interaction with the parallel and on-going statutory inspections. The underlying principle was that the ISC had to establish an inspectorate that was objective and independent from the interests of the membership of the associations. This led to the creation of ISI in 1999.
1999 – 2003
From inception, though legally part of ISC, the inspection service was separately located and operationally independent from ISC to ensure there could be no interference with inspections. An accountability mechanism was established through an inspection committee the function of which was to hold the service to account over non-inspection matters such as financial probity, operational efficiency, and effective complaints handling.
Minimum standards specifically for independent schools were published for the first time by the Secretary of State for Education in 2003. These sat along side the first set of minimum standards for boarding care which had been prescribed by the Department for Health the previous year.
The success of the new ISI enterprise was rewarded by formal recognition and approval of ISI by the Secretary of State at the end of 2003 for provision of statutory inspection services in relation to education. ISI would inspect against the new statutory standards for independent education. The remit was limited to schools in membership of the ISC associations and it was agreed that the inspections would be subject to scrutiny by Ofsted for quality assurance purposes.
However, statutory inspection of boarding care and early years, which were both viewed as high risk provision, remained the responsibility of statutory agencies and inspectorates.
2003 – 2007
ISC was now providing statutory inspection services through what was effectively a department known as ISI, but it was recognised that the inspection function needed to become a separate legal entity in its own right. Anticipation of the introduction of the statutory framework for early years foundation stage (provision for 0-5 year olds) and ISC lobbying to bring inspection of this new framework within the remit of ISI gave the necessary impetus to incorporate ISI as a separate company. This move provided additional assurance to the Secretary of State of the independence of inspection functions.
2007 – 2012
In December 2007, ISI became separately constituted as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. The new board included members nominated by the associations and other independent directors with appropriate expertise. The articles were clear that nominated directors were not representatives of the associations and were not to act as such.
Under its new constitution, ISI continued to be operationally independent and physically separate from ISC. With the approval of the Secretary of State it assimilated the inspection of early years provision in ISC schools in 2008. Discussions were to continue about the benefits of greater legal independence.
In the meantime, ISI played a leading role in supporting the development of the UK government’s voluntary accreditation scheme for British Schools Overseas and was approved as an inspectorate under this scheme when it commenced in 2010. In 2011 ISI created a trading arm, ISI Consultancy Limited, with a view to developing training and support services. ISI also began to provide educational oversight to Private Further Education colleges on behalf of the UK Border Agency (now UKVI, part of the Home Office).
2012 – 2018
With effect from 1st January 2012, ISI ceased to be a subsidiary of ISC. This brought the legal position into line with the operational reality from inception and before.
At the same time, also with effect from 1st January 2012, the Secretary of State approved ISI to take over statutory inspection of boarding care provision in ISC schools. “Integrated inspection” of ISC schools streamlined inspections for the benefit of all stakeholders for the first time eliminating sources of duplication and confusion. The ensuing “integrated inspection framework” ran from 2012 to 2016.
This tabulation shows the journey towards integrated inspection for ISC association schools.
The launch of ISI Consultancy Limited saw the rapid growth of international demand for educational and quality assurance expertise. ISI has exceptional expertise and experience in supporting governments worldwide from designing national teaching standards to reviews of individual schools or whole school networks.
Integrated inspections are now the accepted norm. ISI inspections continue to integrate the separate but complimentary regulatory sets of standards which independent schools must meet, though the current inspection framework no longer bears that title.
The board of ISI is presently under-going a governance review with a view to further strengthening its independence and laying the groundwork to support future strategic development.