Independent schools

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 Education in order to ensure that they comply with The Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2010, which specify the provision a school should make. In inspecting these schools, Ofsted uses the powers granted by section 162A of the Education Act 2002, as amended by Schedule 8 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 schools 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 Department for Education 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 Education. The educational provision in these schools is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), the School Inspection Service (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 the Department for Education to ensure quality and consistency.

Protocol - independent inspectorates

This document is a protocol for Ofsted’s communication and working arrangements with the approved independent inspectorates for independent schools in England. This protocol has been agreed by Ofsted, the Department for Education, the Independent Schools Inspectorate, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the School Inspection Service. Read Protocol - independent inspectorates.

Voluntary inspection scheme for British schools located overseas

The Department for Education (DfE) has introduced a voluntary inspection scheme for British schools located overseas. Inspections are intended to judge and report on how standards in British schools overseas compare with those in independent schools in England. Inspection reports should also provide parents and prospective parents with information about how well schools prepare their pupils for either re-entry into the British school system or entry to higher education.

The DfE website has more information about the inspection of British schools overseas.

Six independent inspection providers have been approved and authorised by the DfE to inspect British schools overseas to the published standards. Ofsted will be responsible for monitoring the quality of a sample of their inspections and reports. Each inspection provider will conduct inspections according to their own framework and tariff which have been assessed as fit for purpose during the approval process. There is a list of approved overseas inspection providers.

Ofsted has established a protocol with the independent inspection providers and the DfE for the conduct of the monitoring work.

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