Exclusive: Ofsted's experience is draining away

Watchdog loses equivalent of 71% of its school HMI inspectors amid warnings of inspection 'treadmill'

Figures show a high turnover of HMI

Ofsted has lost the equivalent of more than two-thirds of its current school HMI workforce in just three years, Tes can reveal.

As the most senior and experienced staff, HMIs (Her Majesty’s Inspectors) are key to the schools watchdog.

But figures obtained by Tes show that since September 2015, 125 school HMIs have left, from an inspectorate that currently employs a total of 175 school HMIs.

Another 154 new school HMIs have been recruited since 2015 but former staff warn that the “high turnover” of senior inspectors means Ofsted is losing valuable experience and knowledge.

Mark Williams, who left the inspectorate in 2015, said that the creation of the shorter inspections had made the HMI’s job “a treadmill” and was contributing to people leaving.

“After the shorter inspection came in, the volume of inspections that Ofsted was looking to do meant HMI were expected to do two inspections a week,” he said.

“You would be planning for a visit on one day, doing the inspection and writing the report and then planning for the next inspection. It became a treadmill of inspection activity.”

Mr Williams said the shorter inspections also gave inspectors less chance to use their expertise. He said it was difficult writing shorter inspection reports in a shorter space of time that were not “generic and anodyne”.

The figures obtained by Tes follow a recommendation from the National Audit Office that Ofsted needed to develop a strategy to stop shedding staff.

An NAO report into Ofsted in May warned that the inspectorate had found it challenging to retain its HMI and that by March it had 15 per cent fewer people than it had budgeted for.

Ofsted 'struggling to recruit'

The report also said that in 2016-17 workload was cited by nine of the 12 HMI with two years’ or less service who completed exit interviews or questionnaires. 

The new figures show that 39 HMI left Ofsted between September 2017 and last month, while 47 were recruited in the same time period.

In 2016-17, a total of 41 school HMI left and 66 were recruited, and in 2015-16, 45 left and 41 were recruited.

Mr Williams said that Ofsted faces a constant challenge recruiting staff as HMI is no longer seen as a long-term job before retirement.

“In the past, there was a sense that becoming a HMI was the pinnacle of your career and it was something people would retire from,” added Mr Williams, now education director for the Co-op Academies Trust..

“Now people come into it thinking they will do it for a period of time and then move on to something else.”

However, he said he was more confident that Ofsted was aware of the challenges facing HMI under the current chief schools inspector, Amanda Spielman, than under previous regimes.

The NAO recommended that Ofsted produce a recruitment and retention plan that showed what it was aiming to achieve and by when, the interventions it will use, how much it expected them to cost, and how it will measure progress.

 An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “It is a marker of the high esteem in which Ofsted is held that we lose a relatively high proportion of staff back to senior positions in MAT chains. Again, this helps with the exchange of experience in the system that can only be to the good.

“It’s important that the HMI role is attractive, and we are working with stakeholders to make sure that it is. This is ongoing, and includes some of the ideas mentioned in the NAO report, though it’s too early to report any outcomes."

She added: "The education landscape has clearly changed, with wider career opportunities for school leaders and inspectors. Given this, we encourage senior teachers to see working as an inspector as a potential mid-career role, rather than only something for the end of their career.”

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