The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is recognized by the Department of Education and Ofsted as the agency responsible for the inspection of all independent private schools in the UK belonging to the Independent Schools Joint Council. It is the duty of the ISI to report to the Department for Education on the extent to which these schools meet statutory requirements

Since September 2016 there have been substantial changes made to how inspections are carried out. Schools now have far less notice of an inspection (no more that two working days) and the inspections themselves are far shorter in duration (again about 2 days) but they are carried out more frequently. Under the new arrangements, intermediate inspections of registered EYFS settings and boarding accommodation no longer occur, reflecting that these are now considered to be integral parts of a school and therefore best included in the whole school inspection process

There are now two different types of Inspections:

(1) Regulatory Compliance Only:  These don’t last long but they will take place frequently  – at least every two/ three years even for the best schools. They report on a school’s compliance with the Independent School Standards Regulations, and where applicable the National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Basically this inspection is all about the school having all their necessary paperwork in place – safeguarding, regulatory policies etc. are all analysed and librarians should ensure that, at the very least, they have a library policy displayed on the school’s website/ intranet. No judgements on quality are made at all, schools will simply be told if they meet the standards or not by being issued with a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’
(2) Educational Quality and Focused Compliance: These focus on two main outcomes – pupils’ achievement and pupils’ personal development (what used to be known as SMSC)  and everything else is seen as just a contributory factor  There is also a reduced compliance element in tandem with the educational aspects of the inspection. These inspections are likely to be less frequent than the regulatory visits (e.g. every six years). Four possible quality judgements are possible – schools will be declared: excellent, good, sound or unsatisfactory. Inspectors arrive  at these  judgements by evaluating the outcomes for pupils of what the schools  does. So they observe lessons, examine pupils’ written work, including that held electronically, and visit extra-curricular activities and other school events. They interview pupils, and school leaders, managers and teachers to gather evidence related to outcomes for pupils. They consider the questionnaire   responses from parents and pupils, the school’s fulfilment of its aims and the distinctiveness of each school in evaluating pupils’ achievement and personal development. But there is now a much shorter ‘window’ of opportunity for the Inspectors to see/ feel how a school operates, so everything you do has to be made pretty obvious!

How an Inspection can work to our advantage!

An Inspection should be seen as something positive. It is carried out for the benefit of the pupils and seeks to improve the quality and effectiveness of their education and welfare. An Inspection also provides an objective and reliable report on the quality of a school and, by placing that report in the public domain, makes the information available to parents and the wider community. In this way, it helps a school, its staff and governors recognize and build on their strengths and identify and remedy any weaknesses. As Prep School librarians we usually work alone and, although we are encouraged to be part of the wider school community, a lot of our work is very specific to our profession and its outcomes are often difficult for our teaching colleagues to measure. So an Inspection is often the only external evaluation of our performance that we receive and a good inspection report can be an enormous boost. It can, for example, be used as part of an advocacy strategy to drive for better funding, increased staffing or even better pay and conditions. Even a critical inspection report can lead to development and improvement. After all, inspectors do check that criticisms and weaknesses from previous reports have been acted upon, which means that if a poor facility is not improved they will follow it up. Librarians usually report a significant increase in the use of the library and its resources as their school prepares for Inspection, once aroused, this interest often persists post Inspection. Even if the library does not come under the scrutiny of the Inspectors the preparation one has had to do for an Inspection is good management practice and will be of great benefit.

To quote a colleague: “Above all it made me audit the Library/Resources Centre facilities and services, and examine areas for improvement or expansion.”

Preparing for Inspection.

This should be a regular, on-going exercise  – do not wait for an Inspection to be announced before you start preparing, because you simply won’t have the time!  As librarians we should be continually –

  • gathering evidence and developing strategies to raise the profile of our libraries
  • highlighting  key strengths and achievements
  • sharing good practise with our teaching colleagues, management and in fact anyone who will listen.

So preparing for an Inspection is really just an extension of this aspect of our regular work!

CILIP believes school libraries are integral to teaching and learning and so should be included in the official Inspection programme, but until their campaign is successful school libraries will remain in a state of limbo with library inspections being a very hit and miss affair. In fact very often the Inspection team do not get time to even visit the library.  Surprisingly there has been very little written on the subject of Inspections, and what there is usually refers to Ofsted. The SLA & CILIP can advise members who have any questions about a forthcoming inspection but networks of school librarians, such as LIPSSEE, are invaluable sources of information as members can share their personal experiences. What the Inspectors generally look for will include

  • Evidence to indicate that library services are actually delivered with supporting teaching and learning and increasing student achievement as the main goals and can be seen to be successful in these areas.
  • Evidence-based data indicating a well-managed library, resourced to enable it to support the whole school community

Here are examples of evidence-based data you could provide. You will not need all of these, but it pays to be prepared. Ensure that all your information is presented professionally, is succinct, and focuses on the purpose of the library i.e. how it supports student learning and achievement across the curriculum

Evidence drawn from your quantitative and qualitative data – this will highlight the ways in which your work contributes to the overall improvement in pupils’ learning and achievement as well as identifying areas for improvement or development. (For further information refer to the “Self- Evaluation” section of this website). Don’t undersell the impact you have but be aware of your weaknesses and know what you plan to do about them.

  • Rather than pages of statistics, your information is sure to have more impact if presented graphically.
  • Instead of masses of detail, focus on presenting trends that show increased usage relating to student learning that may not be reflected in issue statistics alone.
  • With all your statistics, select carefully what to report on and relate it to the impact it had

Evidence of library staff supporting students

  • Focus on how the library staff are engaging with students, and how they have supported students in aspects of research, reading development and the development of Information Literacy skills
  • Include specific examples of collaboration with teachers, which may have led to working with students on aspects of literacy or to support inquiry, with evidence of the outcome.
  • If  you have acted on school reading data to build up specific areas of the library collection to meet the reading needs of an identified segment of the student population, show evidence of the impact of this on their reading, in diagrammatic form or as a brief summary statement.

Evidence of policies and other official papers – make sure these are all up-to-date and readily available for the Inspectors to see on the library section of the school’s website or intranet. They show how professionally the library is managed and how effectively it is supporting teaching and learning throughout the school. The SLA recommends, as an absolute minimum level of documentation, that all school libraries should have a library policy and be included in the school’s development plan. We would recommend in addition that there is a separate library development plan and  library handbook. Further information, including our reasons for this, can be found in the section on this website entitled “Policies and Planning”. If you are responsible for teaching Information Literacy skills in your school then it would be useful to have an Information Literacy Policy too. From March 2012 Ofsted has insisted that every state school they inspect must provide a School Reading for Pleasure Policy (Moving English Forward  paras. 65 – 71, pages 29-31), although this does not directly effect Independent schools it offers us an advocacy potential that we as Prep School librarians cannot afford to miss. Promoting reading for enjoyment is our “thing” and this is a great opportunity for us to tell Senior Management, as well as the Inspectors, what we actually do to promote it in our schools.  So take the initiative, write the policy and present it to them – they will thank you for it when Inspection time comes along! When considering your library’s paperwork don’t forget to include copies of your latest termly or annual report and your most current newsletter as they would also include references to tasks that have supported student achievement.   The library’s contribution to pupils’ progress will be further enhanced if there is evidence that the librarian has the status to assist with the planning and management of the curriculum and other learning programmes..

Be aware of the library’s position in relation to the rest of the school

  • Familiarize yourself with the school’s development plan and know how the library fits into it.
  • Be aware of the contents of your school’s staff handbook so you can discuss the school’s anti-bullying, child abuse, safeguarding and inclusion policies and how, as librarian, you support these. For example by providing access to a diverse range of stock, ensuring that resource provision meets accessibility requirements and providing advice and guidance to pupils and staff on staying safe online. Importantly in a school environment a library is a neutral space where children are valued as individuals and where they can access reading materials that support their diverse emotional, cultural and leisure needs and interests.
  • Be able to discuss the ways in which the library supports the school’s teaching of “British Values” and  assists in the social, moral, spiritual and cultural development (SMSC)  of students – this is  a very important issue at the moment. Ensure you can provide resources on democracy, the British government, parliament, human  rights, e-safety, gender etc and stock a variety of novels based on or about other cultures; celebrate festivals and national events such as Black History and LGBQT month and mark special days from around the world with displays. It is also about celebrating British achievements, famous events and people through history whose legacy helped shape Britain into the nation it is today. Have books on display during Inspection that deal with different religions, disabilities and coping with issues . And don’t forget to brief the children, so if asked, they know that all these resources are readily available and where to find them!
  • Don’t forget the library’s pastoral role either. It offers a safe and secure environment to those children who, for a variety of reasons, find the school environment particularly unwelcoming.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues and how they effect the library – fire drills etc.
  • Inspectors like to see evidence of the library around the school

Your library environment, both physical and online – examples may include

  • Library website / intranet – with usage metrics showing levels of usage and by whom
  • Library social media accounts – and have metrics showing usage and how that is trending
  • Display students’ completed work

Keep a “Portfolio of Evidence” – include the library policy, the library development plan, job descriptions, timetables of departmental use of the library, details of information skills lessons and any activities promoting reading and literacy, quantitative data including the sufficiency, accessibility, quality and use of stock, examples of pupils’ work using library facilities, a synopsis of the library’s contribution to whole-school aspects and other relevant information. Whilst a portfolio will take effort and time to complete, it is a way of collecting evidence systematically and of focusing and demonstrating the library’s particular strengths and achievements to others

Keep a ‘happy file’ – where all positive pupil or parent feedback is kept – this can be used to provide evidence of outcome.

The SLS-UK School Library Award – administered by local Schools Library Services across the UK this involves a self-assessment  process by the librarian and an external evaluation of your library’s performance resulting in national accreditation and a certificate which you can visibly display in your library for the Inspectors to see

The Inspection.

A team of Inspectors will visit the school and remain for just a few days. There is never one inspector who will just inspect the library. It will be either the lead inspector or one of the subject inspectors (possibly English) who will be allocated the task in addition to their other duties. If you are to be interviewed by the Inspectors you will be warned in advance. However, be prepared to be interviewed outside of normal working hours. Librarians report being interviewed as late as 7.00pm in the evening.

We are all very proud of our libraries and we want to show them off or get some feedback on the services we are providing, but realistically the Inspectors just cannot get round to everyone in the time they have.  In case of an impromptu visit it is vital that you maintain a normal routine, including class bookings and pupil use during the school’s Inspection period. It will be apparent if anything has been artificially changed. Of course, the resources should be tidied to give a good impression, but efforts at hiding major shortcomings will probably be obvious.


Even if you spend some time in discussion with the inspectorate team this will not guarantee any comments about the library in the final report. For all your hard work just expect a few lines at the very most!

(Last updated by Denise Reed on 20 November 2017)

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