What is an independent school?
An independent school is defined as any establishment which provides full time education to five or more pupils of compulsory school age, or one or more pupils with a statement of special educational need, or in public care, and which is not maintained by a local authority. There are around 2400 independent schools in England, but the educational provision of only half of them is inspected directly by Ofsted. These schools are known as the ‘non-association schools’.
Ofsted’s powers to inspect
Ofsted inspects the non-association independent schools at the request of the registering authority, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in order to ensure that they comply with The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2003, which specify the provision a school should make. In inspecting these schools, Ofsted uses the powers granted by section 162A of the Education Act 2005. For this reason independent school inspections are sometimes known as 'section 162A inspections'.
Since September 2008 Ofsted also inspects any provision made in these schools for children aged from birth to five against the Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Schools which provide childcare for children from birth until the term in which they reach their third birthday must register this provision separately with Ofsted. Although separately registered, this provision is inspected under Section 49(2) of the Childcare Act 2006 as part of the inspection of the whole school.
The inspection of educational provision in non-association independent schools is generally conducted every three years and this results in a report which is published on Ofsted’s website. HMI lead around half of all inspections, with additional inspectors employed by our contractors carrying out the remainder on our behalf.
Ofsted also inspects the welfare of boarders in all independent schools under the Care Standards Act 2000 having regard to the National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools or Residential Special Schools or Children’s Homes, as appropriate. This is an integral part of the inspection of the whole school. Please note, however, that Ofsted’s social care inspectors also inspect residential special school annually and children’s homes twice a year. These inspections continue as before when not part of the whole school inspection.
Inspectors judge whether the school satisfies the regulations for registration, and, where it does not it is required by the DCSF to produce an action plan for improvement. Failure to make the necessary improvement(s) may lead to the school being deleted from the register of independent schools by the registering authority and required to close. New schools must comply with the regulations before they are allowed to open and accept pupils. Ofsted's inspectors may also visit independent schools for other reasons, for example to judge a new applicant's readiness for registration, to assess a school’s application to make a material change, to monitor a particular issue at a school or follow its progress against a submitted action plan.
Ofsted does not inspect the educational provision in those independent schools whose headteachers are in membership of one of the associations which make up the Independent Schools Council (ISC). Neither does Ofsted inspect those schools which are owned by the Focus Learning Trust or schools affiliated to the Christian Schools’ Trust or the Association of Muslim Schools UK where this is agreed by the Department for Children Schools and Families. The educational provision in these schools is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), the School Inspection Services (SIS) and the Bridge Schools Inspectorate respectively. Ofsted does, however, inspect the welfare of boarders in all independent schools.
The work of the other independent inspectorates is monitored by Ofsted on behalf of DCSF to ensure quality and consistency.
- DCSF page on inspection of independent schools
- Independent schools council
- Independent schools inspectorate
- The Bridge Schools Inspectorate
- The School Inspection Services
- Protocol for monitoring the work of other inspectorates in independent schools including liaison over inspection of the Early Years Foundation Stage