Ofsted has been forced to dramatically increase the money on offer for its new regional directors after struggling to fill the posts it sees as key to raising standards of education.
Only three of the eight new leaders - who were supposed to "take charge" of school improvement in their areas from January - have been appointed so far, and two of those were already working for the inspectorate.
TES understands that Ofsted has had to increase the money on offer for at least one of the positions by more than 50 per cent, to #163;140,000 a year, in a bid to tempt high-performing headteachers into applying. The inspectorate has had to re- advertise and does not now expect the vacancies to be filled until the spring.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, knows several heads who have been approached by headhunters about the posts, but he said they had been left with many unanswered questions.
"People want to know what sort of support are these directors going to have and are they going to be working from home or will they have an office?" he said. "They want to know whether they are going to do any actual school inspection. Otherwise, how do you keep in touch with what is going on?
"The idea for these posts has been developing and people were perhaps reluctant to apply for a job where there are still lots of questions that remain."
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector, used his annual report last month to highlight "stark" inequalities between school standards in different parts of the country. In the northern towns of Wigan and Darlington, four-fifths of schools were good or outstanding, he noted, compared with just under three-fifths in more affluent Oxfordshire.
The Ofsted regional directors are a key part of his strategy to tackle such differences. Sir Michael wants them to "assess whether local authorities, diocesan authorities, academy chains and federations have adequate oversight of (school) performance". An Ofsted website says they will have "hands-on roles working with schools and colleges".
'The right calibre'
When the posts were first announced in August it was said that they would pay at least #163;90,000 a year plus bonuses. TES asked Ofsted to explain the subsequent increase in the salary to #163;140,000.
A spokeswoman said: "The salary package for the regional director posts is flexible to reflect the right calibre of candidates with the experience we need in these critical high-profile roles."
To date, the only external appointee has been Nick Hudson, director of children's and adult services at Wigan Council (see panel, left). But Mr Lightman said many school leaders may be reluctant to make the same move.
"It is a big step for people who are likely to be well-established heads," he said. "The potential to be moved around to different areas could be a deterrent and there is also the question of whether they would want to work for an organisation like Ofsted having enjoyed a lot of autonomy as heads."
An Ofsted spokesperson said: "Ofsted's regional directors will have a pivotal role, challenging and supporting institutions to improve, so it is important we take our time in finding the right candidates for the job.
"Ofsted can confirm that so far it has recruited three regional directors and is re-advertising for the remaining five. We expect all posts to be filled by spring 2013."
Nick Hudson, currently Wigan Council's director of children's and adult services, is the only external appointment Ofsted has so far been able to make to one of its key regional director posts.
Mr Hudson will start as director for the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber in January.
"For me, the national statistics are compelling," Mr Hudson said. "Two million children in schools that are less than good; one in five children leaving primary schools not able to access the secondary curriculum; and some of the lowest post-16 rates in the developed world.
"I want to be at the heart of changing the profile of these figures."