Fees for primary-school inspections are likely to fall by a third. One of the biggest OFSTED contractors, Cambridge Education Associates, has told its inspectors the new daily rate for primary school work will be pound;200 a day. Last term the same firm was offering pound;250 for such work, while others were paying up to pound;275 or pound;250 a day plus expenses. When CEA started inspection work in 1994 it was paying pound;350.
Cambridge Associates has written to its freelance inspectors explaining the second pay cut. "To be sure of success in this last round (of contract tendering) we have had to reduce our costs and margins and consequently have no alternative but to also reduce all fee levels I We hope that the market will not remain at this depressed level for long."
Supply teachers are paid a daily rate of around pound;110, but inspecting schools involves extra work: there is a vast amount of preparatory paperwork and several days writing up the report itself.
The reduction in rates comes as the service is introducing tougher quality assurance guidelines: inspectors must undergo intensive professional and subject training at their own expense.
One inspector said: "The good quality people will leave and the quality of the rest will suffer as people will have to do inspections back-to-back with different contractors to make ends meet."
The contracts awarded for the autumn term have produced some surprises. Nord Anglia, the country's biggest commercial provider of education services, has won fewer primary inspections than previously and PKR and Bench Marque, both specialist inspection and consultancy firms, have failed to win any at all.
Malcolm Greenhalgh, chairman of Bench Marque, has written to his freelance inspectors, urging them to complain to OFSTED. In the letter, Mr Greenhalgh says: "The message coming through from inspectors is that contractors who have won the bids are paying fees which are too low to keep inspectors in the field long term."