The revelation that registered inspectors are being offered Pounds 54, 000 plus substantial expenses to inspect only 12 primary schools has pitched the Office for Standards in Education into another bitter controversy.
The offer has come from Raven Transactions, a Warwickshire agency that is prepared to pay high-calibre registered inspectors Pounds 4,500 - twice as much as the average primary head earns a month - to lead an inspection. Usually it takes only four days to inspect a primary school and perhaps a further six days to complete the report.
Raven, which also pays between Pounds 150 and Pounds 600 in expenses for each inspection, says it is being forced to offer "fabulous money" because of the dearth of registered inspectors and the huge backlog of work.
OFSTED is operating a four-yearly inspection cycle for the 19,000 primary schools in England and Wales. But it now appears that only 5,400 inspections will be completed by this summer.This means that 13,600 primaries will have to be inspected during 1996-97 and 1997-98.
For Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the large sums being offered to registered inspectors typified everything that was wrong with the education service. "People who comment and criticise get all the money. Those who actually teach get next to nothing. Paying inspectors this much is a scandalous misallocation of resources."
The total cost of inspections and OFSTED administration amounted to Pounds 63 million in 1994-95, but this year it will rise to Pounds 98m. The figure for 1996-97 is Pounds 118m. Secondary inspections cost Pounds 17,700 on average while primaries cost Pounds 10,400.
Raven said it would find the extra money for registered inspectors by cutting its running costs and profit margins and by reducing the team members' inspection rate from Pounds 1,960 to Pounds 1,470 - the rate that OFSTED pays team members who work with HM inspectors. But pressure is building to increase this rate, too, because more team members are needed for the 800 inspections that are scheduled for the current term.
Only last Friday, OFSTED issued an appeal for reinforcements and admitted that there were still vacancies on teams due to go into primary schools a week on Monday.
Raven's managing director, Peter Oakley, said that his company was looking for registered inspectors prepared to undertake between three and 12 inspections a year. His company would then bid for large blocks of primary inspections. "I accept it is fabulous money," he said. "No director of this company will earn that much. You have to remember, however, that this is a market economy. Even an indifferent registered inspector is able to earn between Pounds 2,500 and Pounds 3,000 per inspection."
OFSTED did not want to comment on the sums that contractors were offering. However, a spokesman commended Raven's policy of recruiting high-quality team leaders. "We have always tried to raise the quality of inspection and we are focusing on contractors' quality-assurance systems," he said. "The other point I would make is that the secondary inspection system is working well and is on schedule."