Teachers and heads should soon be able to work toward their Master's degree while training to be an inspector for the Office for Standards in Education. Three universities are planning to accredit OFSTED's new distance-learning package for inspectors as part of their diploma, certificate and MA courses in a pilot scheme.
OFSTED, which is faced with a shortage of inspectors for the 4,000 primary schools a year which must be visited under the new system, sees the scheme as a way to encourage more primary heads and teachers to become inspectors.
Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, says it is valuable to have more people who work in schools on inspection teams, and the training is worthwhile as in-service education. The accreditation plan is part of a wider drive to involve teachers and heads in inspection, he says.
OFSTED is also developing a sponsorship scheme, where heads or teachers recommended by local authorities or other independent inspection agencies would be trained at OFSTED's cost, in return for agreeing to take part in inspections.
At present, not all trained inspectors are doing so, and this is seen as a major cause of the shortage.
From March 1995, training for new inspectors will be carried out using a combination of tutorials and distance-learning materials being developed by the Northamptonshire Inspection and Advisory Services. This training will replace the old five-day course which was really only suitable for experienced inspectors, nearly all of whom have been trained by now.
There will be three routes for the new course. First, a full course of about 100 hours of study over three months; second, a "fast-track" course for those with relevant experience, of about 50 hours; and third, direct entry into OFSTED assessment for those who do not need training. Assessment will be separate from the training, and will be OFSTED's responsibility.
There is also likely to be a course using distance-learning methods for secondary inspectors who want to be accredited as primary inspectors.
The scheme to accredit OFSTED training as part of university courses is being planned by Keele, Manchester Metropolitan and Leicester universities.
Michael Barber, professor of education at Keele, said: "The question we considered was could training for inspection and the experience of being an inspector contribute toward an MA or higher qualification. We are coming up with a package which would allow inspection training and experience of the first two inspections to contribute to a diploma, certificate or MA."
Professor Barber said work was still at an early stage, but in the long run inspection training could be included in a range of degrees from many universities.
Keele runs a "roll on, roll off" system, where students would be able to start their course at any time. It would cover both primary and secondary sectors.
"OFSTED's aim would be to encourage more primary heads and deputies", said Professor Barber. "From our point of view we are entirely open about it. It's not going to solve the primary issue, but it will contribute to solving it."