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Evolving Trends: The Integration of Wellbeing in the ISI Inspection Framework Over the Past Decade

Updated: May 10

In the realm of education, the pursuit of academic excellence has long been the focal point of evaluation and assessment. However, over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in educational paradigms, with increasing recognition of the importance of holistic development and wellbeing alongside academic achievement. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the evolution of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspection framework. Over the years, the ISI has undergone transformative changes to incorporate wellbeing policies and measures, reflecting a broader societal understanding of the interconnectedness between wellbeing and educational outcomes.

A bald, smartly-dressed, middle-aged man stands in a classroom, overlooking the desk of a teenage girl completing on her schoolwork.

The Traditional Emphasis on Academic Excellence

Historically, the ISI inspection framework primarily focused on evaluating academic standards, teaching quality, and compliance with regulatory requirements. While these criteria remain fundamental, there has been a growing realisation that an exclusive emphasis on academic achievement does not fully capture the essence of a well-rounded education. There has been a paradigm shift in educational philosophy, with an increasing emphasis on fostering the social, emotional, and mental wellbeing of students. 

Research has consistently demonstrated the profound impact of wellbeing on learning outcomes, cognitive development, and overall academic success. Recognising this interdependence, the ISI’s Framework 23 reflects a broader understanding of educational quality—one that extends beyond traditional academic metrics to encompass wellbeing and pastoral care within schools.

Incorporating Wellbeing into the Inspection Framework

The evolution of the ISI inspection framework to incorporate wellbeing policies and measures has been a multifaceted process, characterised by several key changes:

1. Expanded Evaluation Criteria 

The ISI now evaluates schools on their provision of pastoral support, mental health resources, and initiatives aimed at promoting student wellbeing. Inspectors assess the effectiveness of these measures in nurturing a supportive and inclusive school environment conducive to holistic development.

Point 18 of Framework 23 clearly states that “in order to meet the required leadership standard [...], the proprietor, leaders and managers must actively promote [the] five aspects of pupils' wellbeing”, as defined by section 10(2) of the Children’s Act 2004.

2. Integration of Wellbeing Indicators

Wellbeing indicators, such as student happiness, sense of belonging, and emotional resilience, have been integrated into the assessment criteria used by inspectors. Schools are evaluated on their ability to foster a positive and nurturing ethos that prioritises the wellbeing, “self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-confidence” of students and staff alike.

3. Stakeholder Engagement

In use since September 2023, the new, revised inspection framework places greater emphasis on stakeholder engagement, including consultations with students, parents, and staff. This inclusive approach ensures that the perspectives and experiences of all members of the school community are considered in the assessment of wellbeing provision.

4. Professional Development 

The ISI has invested in training and professional development for inspectors to ensure they have the necessary expertise to evaluate wellbeing policies and practices effectively. Inspectors undergo training on mental health awareness, safeguarding protocols, and best practices in pastoral care, enabling them to conduct thorough and insightful assessments of wellbeing provision within schools.

The Impact of Wellbeing-Centric Inspection

The integration of wellbeing into the ISI inspection framework has had a transformative impact on independent schools, fostering a culture of proactive engagement with student wellbeing and pastoral support. Schools have embraced initiatives aimed at promoting mental health awareness, resilience-building, and positive relationships, recognising that these efforts are not only conducive to academic success but also essential for the overall wellbeing and flourishing of their students.

Looking Ahead: Continuing the Journey

As we look to the future, the evolution of the ISI inspection framework is likely to continue, with ongoing refinement and adaptation to reflect emerging trends and best practices in wellbeing provision. The incorporation of wellbeing policies and measures is not merely a checkbox exercise, but a fundamental reimagining of the purpose and function of education - an acknowledgment that true educational excellence encompasses far more than academic attainment alone.

In conclusion, the past decade has witnessed a profound transformation in the ISI inspection framework, marked by a concerted effort to integrate wellbeing policies and measures into the assessment of school performance. This evolution reflects a broader societal recognition of the intrinsic link between wellbeing and educational success, signalling a promising shift towards a more holistic and student-centred approach to education. As the journey continues, the ISI remains committed to fostering a culture of excellence that prioritises the wellbeing and holistic development of every student within the independent school sector.


This blog was written by Jez Belas, Sales and Engagement Director for youHQ and Life on Time Ltd. Jez has 16 years of teaching experience and until recently was Head of PE and Wellbeing at an independent school in Berkshire.

For more information about our school wellbeing platform and to sign up for a free demo, please click here. 


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