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Inspectors lose as agency flops

Inspection firm goes into liquidation after it fails to win OFSTED contracts, reports Warwick Mansell.

ONE of the country's largest inspection agencies has folded, leaving some inspectors claiming up to pound;10,000 in back-pay.

Salter Baker Associates (Education) Ltd ceased trading two weeks ago and is going into liquidation after failing to be awarded any contracts by the Office for Standards in Education for this year.

The Chichester-based agency had also had its quality assurance rating from OFSTED withdrawn for 2001. The company's managing director has admitted that inspectors are owed more than pound;100,000 in total. Up to 30 staff may be affected.

Colin Henderson, a registered inspector who worked regularly for Salter Baker for three years, said he had not been paid since October. He said: "I'm owed pound;5,800 for two inspections I carried out in November and December.

"It seems amazing that in one particular case I got monitored by Her Majesty's Inspectors, who found that the inspection was of high quality, the school was recommended for Chris Woodhead's annual list of excellent schools, yet I find I have not received a penny for the 18 hours a day I put in."

Geof Timms, who also worked for the agency, said he was owed pound;9,500.

igel Baker, the company's managing director, said the company had decided to go into liquidation on March 10 with debts "in excess of pound;200,000".

He said that the six-year-old agency, which at one stage had 600 inspectors on its database, had not missed out on contracts or had its quality assurance revoked because of weaknesses in its inspections.

He said that OFSTED had withdrawn quality assurance because of the company's use of a "two-tier" interview procedure, whereby inspectors recommended by a local authority were given shorter interviews than other candidates, and because of new regulations on proof-reading reports.

OFSTED had also wanted the company to issue contracts to inspectors before it was awarded contracts to inspect individual schools.

Mr Baker said: "Once our banks and other supporters heard that quality assurance had been taken away, they withdrew their support, so we were left with no option but to cease trading."

An OFSTED spokeswoman would say only: "An insolvency practitioner has been appointed and we will co-operate as necessary with him."

Salter Baker Associates (Education) Ltd has no connection or involvement with Salter Baker and Associates, a management consultancy partnership in Southampton.

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