Inspector knows how failure feels

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Tricia Sherling says being put into special measures as a head has prepared her for Ofsted, reports Joseph Lee.

When Tricia Sherling arrives to inspect a struggling school, staff can count on her knowing exactly how they feel.

That is because she was once headteacher of a primary school in Berkshire that inspectors said provided "unsatisfactory value for money" and placed in special measures in 2001.

"Leadership and management by the headteacher and key staff are unsatisfactory, so serious weaknesses identified in the last report have not been appropriately addressed," inspectors wrote.

Special measures at the school were lifted in 2003, with the next inspection noting that the head was taking a training course in leadership.

Her record was considered good enough for the Office for Standards in Education to enrol her as an inspector earlier this year and she now judges others as she was once judged.

Mrs Sherling, who also runs an educational consultancy, defended her management record. She said she was better at inspection because she had been through the process of special measures.

She said: "There were extenuating circumstances: I had no management team at all at the time. And I took the school right the way through and out of special measures as well. I've learned an awful lot from the situation.

Because that happened I feel I am in a better position than other people to understand the issues needed for school improvement."

She explained her involvement in a failing school when she applied, but was not cross-examined about it by Ofsted.

But Ofsted is investigating another inspector, Geoff Jepson. As The TES reported last month, Ofsted's own report blamed his "weak leadership and poor management" and "chaotic finances" for his school's failings.

Mr Jepson left his job at a special school in Derby after almost his entire staff said they had no confidence in his leadership.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said Ofsted should be more open about the background of inspectors. He said:

"Ofsted needs to be upfront about who the inspectors are, where they've come from and what their qualifications are so schools know what they're up against.

"The idea of a someone who had been in charge of a failing school putting another one into special measures, or saying it has serious weaknesses, is something teachers can't bring themselves to contemplate. The decisions made by inspectors have enormous and awful high-stakes consequences."

John Chowcat, general secretary of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants, said: "Leading an institution like a school and coming in to make objective judgements from an independent stance require different skills. It's possible that someone might be strong in one but not the other.

"So it would be wrong to say that someone who had been a failed headteacher is automatically going to fail at the other function."

Inspector standards

* Must be educated to degree level

* Need minimum of five years "recent and successful" teaching experience and two years management experience, including work as an advanced skills teacher

* Must supply supportive references from a current inspector, a local education authority or another educational body

* Lead inspectors earn pound;4,500 for each inspection. Team inspectors are paid pound;350 to pound;450 a day.

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