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Lay inspectors may be able to lead teams

The Office for Standards in Education is seeking ways to enable non- professional "lay inspectors" to lead school inspection teams, writes Diane Hofkins.

The idea, mentioned in a report from Chris Woodhead, HM Chief Inspector, is among approaches OFSTED is considering for finding "new blood" to replenish the supply of registered inspectors, needed to head the independent inspection teams.

The proposal has alarmed professional associations. Bill Wright, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants, said: "My view is it would be a step that would have to be taken with extreme caution, bearing in mind the need to maintain the credibility of the inspection process, particularly in the eyes of the people being inspected. "

Jeff Holman, assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, said it would be "ludicrous" to have non-professionals leading teams of inspectors. An OFSTED spokesman said there already were some registered inspectors who were non-educationists. "We have said from the start that one of the key skills we would look for in a registered inspector is management ability," he said. But the idea was on the back burner for the present.

The report, part two of the chief inspector's annual report, says inspection quality has improved since 1993, when the independent system was launched. OFSTED found 5 per cent of secondary inspections during 1993-94 unsatisfactory, and 3 per cent of primary inspections last term gave cause for concern.

* The first "failing" school to be given a clean bill of health is Brookside special school in Derbyshire. An HMI report says standards are satisfactory or better in most lessons, and leadership and management is clear and effective.

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