Our Point of Difference
ISI is at root an educational inspectorate created and designed by school leaders to inspect what matters to parents and pupils against rigorous standards set by the Secretary of State for Education.
ISI’s genesis was not in Whitehall or Westminster but in schools. At ISI we believe that teachers and school leaders are the experts in education who understand how schools function. Before Ofsted was formed, independent school leaders in membership of associations of the Independent Schools Council came together voluntarily to establish objective review services for member schools to supplement the statutory inspections of the time, by local authorities and HMIs. The aim of the initiative was to maintain consistently high standards of educational provision in the independent schools which chose to participate. The model of appraisal was based on teachers evaluating and challenging the work of their peers in other schools and incorporated an element of help and advice to further support school improvement. These reviews were welcomed by schools as an opportunity for professional dialogue and development. The effectiveness of the system was recognised by the Secretary of State and gradually put onto a statutory footing through formal approval in 2003 (educational provision), 2008 (early years) and 2012 (boarding care).
Today, in keeping with its roots, ISI inspections are led by professional inspectors who have all been, and some of whom still are, school leaders: Heads, deputies, designated safeguarding leads and subject leaders. The rest of the inspection teams are composed of leaders and teachers who are still serving in schools, or are recently retired. Team inspectors have up-to-date knowledge and expertise. Their cutting-edge, frontline experience is a key strength of the ISI way.
All inspectors are required to declare all conflicts of interest, including potential and perceived conflicts, to ensure the objectivity of their judgements cannot be impugned. ISI inspectors are drawn from a diverse range of schools with different outlooks, creeds, specialisms and traditions - some unique - but they share a common goal of making a profound and lasting positive impact on their pupils and communities through the provision of ground-breaking, independent education. They come from schools that view professional independence and autonomy as key to the pursuit of excellence.
So, when it comes to the inspection of educational provision, ISI inspectors are open-minded. They are not ideologically opposed to independence. They do not look for or seek to impose conformity to particular pedagogical approaches or government agendas; they recognise that educational excellence can come in many forms. The Independent School Standards translate to inspections that require breadth of curriculum but which empower teachers and schools to be creative and inspirational in their delivery, subject only to requirements such as that all children are enabled and supported to make progress.
By contrast, when it comes to safeguarding and welfare, ISI inspectors require scrupulous compliance with the Independent School Standards and statutory guidance set by the Secretary of State. Their professional knowledge and experience of independent schools, both day and boarding, and how they function, enables them to see past the trappings of reputation, listed buildings and tradition and to get underneath the real culture of a school. The additional inspector tariff ISI is able to bring to bear supports this rigorous approach.
ISI is tightly regulated by the Department for Education through detailed guidance underpinned by legislation, and has daily contact with DfE officials on practical and policy issues. According to the statutory regime, all ISI inspections are at the behest of the DfE; each non-routine inspection is individually commissioned and directed by the DfE as to the timing and scope. All inspection reports are sent to the DfE before publication. ISI also has regular contact with OFSTED, which quality assures its work on behalf of the DfE, for mutual challenge and support, and to ensure that the inspectorates are aligned on key issues. ISI also inspects private further education colleges and English language schools for the Home Office, and is approved by the DfE to inspect under their British Schools Overseas scheme.
From its beginnings as a voluntary school review and accountability service, ISI has pioneered independent inspection approaches which allow innovation in the classroom and encourage schools to focus on what matters: ensuring that children flourish personally and academically while staying safe. The resultant breadth of provision in the independent schools sector supports parents to bring up their families in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions, while ensuring children receive a good education which prepares them for adult life in modern Britain. ISI reports inform parental choice from independent schools in membership of ISC associations with distinctive specialisms, characters and heritage, many of which are admired internationally. Today’s ISI is a modern, agile, professional inspectorate governed by a fully independent board. Advice and help continue to be available to schools outside of statutory inspections through ISI’s consultancy subsidiary. True to its roots, ISI continues to recognise front-line professionals as the experts in education and to share its expertise with schools and governments around the globe.