Ofsted is to pilot a programme sending unmanned aerial vehicles into schools to carry out spot-check inspections, TES has learned.
The drone programme is part of the inspectorate's drive to cut costs while maintaining standards, in the wake of budget cuts of about 46 per cent over the last decade.
Under the project, which is to be called Flight-based Official Observation of Lessons, drones will be manned by a single inspector, who will be based at Ofsted's headquarters in Manchester.
It is estimated that the drones will be able to visit up to 10 schools a day and the project will first focus on schools judged to be inadequate or requiring improvement at their last inspection. Feedback on the lessons observed will be printed out immediately and thrown through the relevant school leader's window.
If successful, the scheme will be rolled out nationwide to – in the words of Ofsted's national director of schools Sean Harford – "keep a weather eye" on good and outstanding schools, to "avoid complacency".
Announcing the programme today, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said he was "delighted to have a mechanical army" at his disposal.
"Early focus groups raised concerns about the intrusion, not to mention the very distracting whirring noise," Sir Michael revealed. "But, as I have said before, teachers need to stop their constant complaining. I, for one, welcome their new robot overlords."
Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Suffolk and TES columnist, said: "As a teacher of many years' experience, I am more than used to Ofsted sending drones in to school. But to hear that those drones will now be mechanical? That's a step too far."