The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Luke Ramsden

Looking ahead to changes in the ISI inspection framework

What can independent schools expect from the proposed changes? Luke Ramsden discusses.

It is very likely that the vast majority of the proposed new framework will come in for September 2023, not least because some of the elements are already in place, and other changes are in line with the new Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 (KCSIE 2022) that comes into effect in September. 

It is advisable then for independent schools to have these proposed changes in mind in their strategic plan for this year. Schools are asked to demonstrate their culture and practice when inspected, and so the coming year presents the perfect opportunity to ensure that these things will be in place well before the framework changes!       

Here are some of the key ideas to have in mind.        

Pupil wellbeing at the centre

The proposed framework states clearly that the ‘centre’ of ISI’s evaluation of a school will be the extent to which its leaders and governors ‘actively promote the wellbeing of pupils.’  This is not new, but it will be even more of a focus for inspectors than ever before.

Inspections will be structured entirely around five areas of student wellbeing:

  1. physical and mental health
  2. protection from harm and neglect
  3. education training and recreation
  4. contribution to society and social and economic wellbeing. 

It will be important for school leaders to work out how they can demonstrate their active promotion of wellbeing in each of these areas. The increasing expectation on governors as well fits with other documents and suggests that this will be an important feature of the new ISI framework. This is certainly the case in KCSIE 2022 that has even more notes than the 2021 version about the importance of governors taking an active lead. For instance, paragraph 81:

Governing bodies and proprietors should ensure that all governors and trustees receive appropriate safeguarding and child protection (including online) training at induction. This training should equip them with the knowledge to provide strategic challenge to test and assure themselves that the safeguarding policies and procedures in place in schools and colleges are effective.

Above and beyond this school leaders will need to demonstrate:

A strategic, comprehensive and inclusive approach to identifying and managing the risk of harm to pupils’ wellbeing…leadership should have the appropriate skills and knowledge to ensure that they appreciate and understand the prevalence of potentially harmful behaviours, and therefore do not consider avoidable harms unavoidable.

Hopefully school leaders already have this approach, but it is clear that schools that are successful in their inspection will be able to demonstrate that they are identifying and managing risk to inspectors, and also that students themselves understand the way in which their school identifies and manages risks that they might face.                                                                                     

Student voice

A key element of the new ISI framework which has already been introduced to inspections is the fact that ‘Pupils’ views, wishes and feelings about their school experience should be taken into account by the school.’ It makes sense that student voice should be at the heart of an inspection that focuses on student wellbeing. The following phrase from the framework shows how important student voice and feedback is in any inspection.

In fulfilling their responsibilities effectively and consistently, leadership should be aware that positive feedback from the majority of pupils can mask smaller groups of pupils, or individual pupils who have harmful, but hidden, negative experiences. Leaders and managers should take a proactive approach, as indicated by the wording of the standards, to promote the wellbeing of all pupils.

School leaders should therefore focus on ensuring that they are able to meet the requirement that they ‘enable pupils to communicate, and develop positive relationships with staff, and make their views known.’  This goes beyond just having a student council to represent their views, and schools will need to show that they are willing and able to take on board student feedback on all elements of school life. 

Schools also need to ensure that students feel comfortable and confident in giving this feedback. Getting students used to the practise of being consulted and asked for feedback will make them more comfortable and confident in doing this with inspectors. 

Diversity and inclusion

The proposed framework makes it clear that schools will need to demonstrate that they are active in meeting ‘standards relating to equality, diversity and inclusion.’ In fact this is another area where additions to KCSIE 2022 mean that leadership teams should already have inclusion at the centre of their school wellbeing strategy.

Paragraphs 83-92 of KCSIE 2022 now lay out the obligations of schools that arise from The Human Rights Act, The Equality Act and The Public Sector Equalities Duty, and it is essential that schools ensure they can demonstrate how their policies and practise meet these obligations. 

For instance, a new section of KCSIE 2022 paragraphs 202-204 talks about the importance of supporting LGBT students: ‘It is vital that staff endeavour to reduce the additional barriers faced, and provide a safe space for them to speak out or share their concerns with members of staff.’

What not to worry about!

ISI inspections will not be looking for particular styles of classroom teaching, or for amazing and flashy lessons. Inspectors are looking for teachers who ‘plan lessons well…use effective teaching methods and activities’ and ensure that pupils ‘acquire good knowledge, make good progress…and are interested in their work.’  The more that staff understand this the more relaxed they can be about the idea of an upcoming inspection.

An opportunity

An interesting new feature of ISI inspections that ‘reports may include examples of exceptional practice’ which will then be shared to other schools. ‘Exceptional practice must have clear, demonstrable and highly beneficial impact for the pupils involved with no risk of detriment to other pupils.’ 

There are a number of different criteria specified for an area of school life to be described as exceptional, but this is certainly a very positive new element of inspections that will give many schools a positive target to aim for given that it will need to ‘be verified for impact through a range of evidence, which should include (where appropriate) the views of pupils, parents and staff; documentation including school records; observation; scrutiny of work and other measures of pupil progress.’

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