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Lay inspector teams 'insult to profession'

The chief inspector's new plan to put people who have never worked in education in charge of school inspection teams has infuriated the teaching profession. Both the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association have denounced the idea as "an insult".

The scheme was not formally announced by the Office for Standards in Education, but through an article by the chief inspector published in the Daily Telegraph last Thursday. In it, Mr Woodhead argues that lay inspectors - people from outside education - are less likely to be encumbered by the baggage of "progressive educational doctrine" when they examine a school, and are therefore in a better position to lead the teams. "I am certain that the freshness of vision they will bring will strengthen the inspection process, " he said.

OFSTED already has about 1,300 lay inspectors on its books, They are used as part of the inspection teams, but Registered Inspectors, who are in charge of inspections, write reports and report back to governors, always have experience in education.

OFSTED has confirmed that lay inspectors with "significant experience" of school inspections will be invited to take a four-day training course next year, and that lay inspectors should be taking charge of some inspections by September. OFSTED could not give a precise definition of "significant experience" or estimate how many lay inspection-leaders it intends to train or what the proportion of lay inspection-leaders should eventually be.

John Sutton, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, called the proposal "an insult to the teaching profession".

"The idea that people with no professional background in the teaching profession should be put in charge of inspections that have such crucial consequences is anathema to all our members. It will destroy the credibility of the system." He was joined by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers: "Would a surgeon tolerate having their operations inspected by someone who had no knowledge of medical matters? " Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, condemned the plan as "absurd - a conspiracy by the laity against the professions; if you take it to its logical conclusion then Chris Woodhead should resign and replace himself with a lay chief inspector."

But this collective outrage is unlikely to worry the chief inspector, who anticipated it in his article: "The basic notion that anyone outside the teaching profession can comment sensibly on the work of a school remains anathema to some - as, indeed, does everything to do with OFSTED's work. " Objectors are thus tarred with the same brush as those who cling to the "woolly, simplistic or otherwise corrupt ideas" which Mr Woodhead exposes earlier in his article.

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