MORE than 40 primary schools have been inspected by teams led by people without teaching qualifications, a move condemned by headteachers The schools were inspected by teams headed by registered inspectors who started off as lay staff, says the Office for Standards in Education. Sixteen such inspectors have graduated from OFSTED training programmes since December 1997.
"We are totally opposed to lay inspectors acting as registered inspectors. They are not qualified," said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "What would a surgeon think if a lay person was to report on their conduct of operations?" John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"It's a backward step. That's taking the role of lay inspector too far. It's not offering a proper professional assessment of a school's work."
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is also concerned. An ATL spokesman said: "Our policy is that we would prefer to see people with qualified teacher status doing inspections.
"We share members' concerns about non-qualified people making judgments about their teaching abilities. By definition, lay inspectors cannot be qualified teachers - although they can have education experience as school governors and classroom assistants, for example."
By the end of the summer term, former lay inspectors will have led 43 primary-school inspections, according to OFSTED.
All 16 had to complete a more rigorous training and assessment programme than that required of other team inspectors seeking registered status.
Their numbers are unlikely to increase as OFSTED has no plans for further training courses geared to lay inspectors.
Despite initial opposition to the introduction of lay inspectors, the unions now seem content, with few complaints from members.
Mr Dunford said lay inspectors had proved less damaging than expected because either their roles were limited or they had become "integrated into the system" - and informed enough to make "sensible judgments".
"We would resist any moves to get rid of the good ones and bring in more butchers, bakers and candlestick makers," he added.
It is precisely this increasing professionalisation of lay inspectors, however, that is worrying some researchers.
David Hustler, professor of education at Manchester Metropolitan University, says there is confusion about exactly what lay inspectors should be doing.
"Once it became OK for lay inspectors to become registered, it suggested lay inspectors had become thoroughly incorporated within the system - rather than retaining that degree of independence which was the reason for having them in the first place," he said.