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Inspections of boarding schools


– Adrian Underwood, Educational Consultant and Lead Inspector

All English accredited independent boarding schools are inspected on a three-yearly cycle. This current cycle started in April 2016. If the boarding school is in membership of one of the five independent school associations (GSA, HMC, IAPS, ISA, Society of Heads) and, thus accredited by its association, the inspection of boarding is carried out by a specialist team of boarding inspectors from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). If it is an independent school, but not a member of one of those associations or is a state boarding school, the inspection of boarding is carried out by a specialist team of Ofsted boarding inspectors.

All accredited independent boarding schools are inspected under the ISI Inspection Framework which came into force in January 2017. Every three years, the inspection will be a Regulatory Compliance Inspection which, in terms of boarding, will inspect the boarding provision against Boarding Schools – National Minimum Standards. Full details of the Standards (the latest April 2015 version) can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/boarding-schools-national-minimum-standards

The next ISI inspection experience for a boarding school in the six-year cycle will be a Focused Compliance Inspection (FCI) and an Inspection of Education Quality (EQI). The FCI will inspect the boarding provision against Boarding Schools – National Minimum Standards. Immediately following the FCI, the EQI will evaluate the quality of the outcomes for pupils. This will evaluate pupils’ achievement and pupils’ personal development. Educational quality findings will be reported against a four-point scale. In respect of the boarding provision in schools, the inspection and the report will include the contribution of boarding to boarders’ achievement and their personal development. Full details of this new inspection framework can be found on the ISI website – see below. Readers should note that, depending on the dates of previous inspections, a FCI-EQI inspection might come before a RCI inspection.

Boarding schools inspected by Ofsted on the three-year cycle will be inspected under The Framework for inspecting boarding and residential provision in schools which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-framework-for-inspecting-boarding-and-residential-provision-in-schools
 Readers should be aware that, late in 2016 Ofsted were consulting on a new boarding inspection framework, which Ofsted aimed to introduce from April 2017. As the copy for this article goes to press before that date, any changes from April 2017 will be published in the September 2017 version of this article.  Schools aware that they will be affected by these changes should carefully follow announcements by Ofsted or the school’s association.
Over the last 20 years, good practice in boarding schools has developed significantly and schools have responded positively to national legislation in this area. The effect of this has been to raise the level of care and management in boarding schools. This, in turn, has supported the increased quality of the boarding experience for the more than 70,000 boarders in independent and state boarding schools.

These improvements have been recognised by central government, so much so that the Department for Education (DfE) consulted with boarding schools and boarders and in September 2011 published a new set of standards. The number of standards was reduced from 53 to 20, reflecting the way in which boarding schools promote the highest standards in care, education and the personal development of boarders. The 2011 Standards were further updated in 2013 and 2015.
A significant aspect of raising the quality of the boarding experience has been schools’ investment in boarding training. The Boarding Schools’ Association’s programme of professional development, including the Certificates of Professional Development and Professional Practice in Boarding Education, is the major provider of this training. The full programme can be found at www.boarding.org.uk

National Boarding Standards
The 20 National Boarding Standards cover the following areas:
  • Policies, procedures and practice: includes anti-bullying, boarders’ activity programme, boarders’ induction, complaints, confidential counselling and guidance, contact with parents, equal opportunities, guardianship, health and safety, management and leadership, medical care, promoting positive behaviour, role of prefects, boarders’ meals.
  • People: includes boarding staff supervision, boarders’ privacy, recruitment checks on boarding staff, relationships between boarders and between boarders and staff, seeking boarders’ views, leadership and management of the boarding provision.
  • Premises: includes boarding accommodation, medical facilities, recreational facilities, toilet and washing facilities.
  • ISI and Ofsted reports on boarding are sent to all parents of current boarders. These are usually also published on the school’s website. They are certainly published on the inspectorates’ websites (listed at the end of this article). An ISI RCI or FCI report states whether the standards are met or not. An ISI EQI report grades the pupil outcomes using one of in four categories. The Ofsted report grades boarding in four categories. In both reporting styles, reference is made to a school’s non-compliance to any of the National Minimum Standards for Boarding.
The role of governors
The Government, through the inspectorates, is putting an increasing emphasis on the role of governors in monitoring standards in schools. The 2015 version of the Boarding Standards introduced a new standard:

13.1 The school’s governing body and/or proprietor monitors the effectiveness of the leadership, management and delivery of the boarding and welfare provision in the school, and takes appropriate action where necessary.

On a boarding inspection, the chair of governors and any other governors who have responsibilities for boarding are interviewed about how they monitor the quality of the boarding provision and the policies and the implementation of policies relating to child protection (safeguarding) and the appointment of staff. As the final responsibility for the management of a school rests with the governing body, the Government needs to be certain that governors understand their responsibilities in all areas, but, particularly, in regard to the safety and welfare of pupils. Many schools now have designated governors who monitor the quality of the school’s boarding life and its safeguarding of pupils. These governors spend time in the boarding houses, meet regularly with the designated senior lead (child protection officer) and monitor the effectiveness of the recruitment checks on new staff and the quality of the single central register of staff appointments.

Child protection
The safeguarding of pupils is a major responsibility of schools and is rightly given emphasis by schools in their procedures and by the ISI and Ofsted in their reports on boarding welfare. Understandably, parents are often more concerned about a school’s location or examination results, and prospective boarders may be more interested in the quality of the bedrooms or the sports facilities. However, the school’s safeguarding of its boarders should also be high on parents’ and prospective boarders’ list of questions.
There are four key areas in child protection (also known as safeguarding).

1     How can I access the school’s child protection policy?
Every school is required to have a safeguarding (child protection) policy. A review by the full governing body of the school’s child protection policies must take place at least annually, including an update and review of the effectiveness of procedures and their implementation. Schools are also required by the Department for Education to make this policy freely available to parents and prospective parents on request. If a school has a website, it is required to publish this policy on its website.

2     Who are the school’s child protection officers?
The school appoints one or more ‘designated senior leads’ (DSLs) to be child protection officers. Usually there is a lead DSL and one or more deputies. These DSLs are required to have training every two years in child protection and inter-agency working. The DSLs in a school take the lead responsibility for all child protection issues and liaise with the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB), the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for safeguarding and the local Children’s Services Team.

3     What training do the school’s staff receive in child protection?
The first thing to emphasise is that it is the responsibility of a school to train all its staff. If a pupil needs to share a confidential matter with an adult, he or she does not necessarily approach a tutor or a teacher. All staff must receive child protection training as part of the induction procedures before they start working in the school. This training must be updated regularly. There is no longer a set frequency for staff refresher training. Schools consult with their LSCB to determine the most appropriate schedule, level and focus for training.

This training covers the categories of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional and neglect), how to respond to a pupil who discloses abuse to a member of staff, and what actions to follow after a disclosure. Each member of staff is provided with a copy of Keeping Children Safe in Education (Part One) and the school’s child protection policy and is expected to know them and also to know the names and contact details (day and night) of the designated senior leads.

4     What is in the school’s policy concerning reporting child protection allegations to a local safeguarding agency?
It is a requirement that, in any school child protection policy, it is stated that a school must communicate readily (in practice, within 24 hours) with a local safeguarding agency whenever an allegation or disclosure of abuse has been made. It is also a requirement to report to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) within one month of leaving the school any person (whether employed, contracted, a volunteer or student) whose services are no longer used because he or she is considered unsuitable to work with children.

Be reassured
Although abuse incidents are relatively rare, schools have robust policies and procedures for preventing abuse and for dealing with any incidents which are reported to them.
Further information
For the Boarding Schools – National Minimum Standards go to www.gov.uk/government/publications/boarding-schools-national-minimum-standards

For the ISI Inspections Framework go to www.isi.net

For Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education there are two government documents:
Keeping Children Safe in Education (Sept 2016) (KCSIE)
Working together to safeguard children (2015) (WTTSC)   

For ISI reports go to www.isi.net

Reports on boarding welfare will only be found on the ISI website for schools whose boarding provision has been inspected since September 2011. For reports before that date, please go to the Ofsted website www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted


Adrian Underwood’s career has been in boarding education for over 45 years since 1971 when he was appointed a housemaster and head of department. From 1975 to 1997 he was headmaster of a boarding and day school. In 1998 Adrian became National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA). He watched over the Association’s development into the world’s major boarding association, pioneering a professional development programme for boarding staff and engaging with the British government on a range of boarding issues including drafting the first set of National Boarding Standards. He was appointed OBE in 2007 for services to education. He now lives on the North Norfolk coast and is an educational consultant and a lead inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate and the Education Development Trust (EDT). He is a governor of Wymondham College and Chairman of the English-Speaking Union’s USA-UK Secondary Schools’ Exchange. He enjoys sailing, golf, tennis and training ambulance drivers for a local day care centre.

Choosing and assessing schools
School Address Phone Type PR Weblink
Clifton CollegeGuthrie Road Clifton Bristol BS8 3EZ0117 315 7000Bo, D, M, 2-18 
Leweston SchoolSherborne, Dorset. DT9 6EN01963 211010Bo, D, G, M(1-8), 0-18 
Bromsgrove SchoolWorcester Road, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. B61 7DU01527 579679Bo, D, M, 7-18 
Queen Ethelburga's CollegeThorpe Underwood Hall, York. YO26 9SS01423 33 33 30Bo, D, M, 3-18 
Stover, Newton Abbot, Devon. TQ12 6QG01626 354505Bo, D, M, 3-18
Pangbourne Reading RG8 8LA+44 (0)118 9767 416Bo, D, M, 11-18
Dauntsey\'sWest Lavington Devizes SN10 4HE01380 814500Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Myddelton College Peakes Lane, Denbigh. North Wales. LL16 3EN+44 174 547 2201Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Lombard Street, Shackleford, Godalming, Surrey GU8 6AS01483 810266Bo, D, B 7-13
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