Inspectors hit out at 'cowboy' contractors

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
The quality of OFSTED's work came under fire this week but MPs were told its efforts are supported by the majority of teachers

The English school inspection system this week came under attack from an unexpected quarter - the inspectors themselves.

A survey of registered inspectors suggests that many are highly critical of "cowboy contractors", inexperienced colleagues, and the Office for Standards in Education.

Some complaints stem from the relatively low hourly pay. One registered inspector (RgI) told researchers: "The good team inspectors and RgIs are leaving the market-place rapidly and there will soon be a shortage of career inspectors."

Another was more blunt: "pound;10 per hour for team members is not a professional rate. Pay peanuts and..."

Other, equally strong, comments were aimed at OFSTED. "Scrap it and re-establish an HM Inspectorate with sufficient teams of accredited RgIs for the 'new' inspectorate to inspect most schools," one inspector said.

But several RgIs were also critical of colleagues who had taught neither the national curriculum nor the age group they were inspecting.

One said that inadequate inspectors should receive "ruthless" treatment, and another admitted: "There are teams made up of people who have never met, reports generated from computer-statement banks and poorly-written reports that leave the school confused."

The survey was conducted by Neil Ferguson and Peter Earley of the Institute of Education, London University. They asked 100 RgIs and 250 primary headteachers if they had any advice to offer the House of Commons Select Committee investigating OFSTED's role. They were surprised to discover that the heads' and inspectors' views were very similar.

Both groups wanted an end to "hit and run" inspections, arguing that inspectors should be able to offer more advice and help to schools. They also believed schools should receive less notice of inspections and local education authorities should be more involved.

Robert Isaac, secretary of the Institute of Registered Inspectors, said that the researchers' findings seemed to be an accurate reflection of inspectors' opinions. "These are the prevailing views," he said.

"Good people are leaving the service. A lot have also, in effect, been made redundant by the reduction in inspections. There are nominally 2,108 registered inspectors but only 1,225 are still active, and some are only leading one inspection a year.

"I do, however, get tired of the witch-hunts - whether they are for inspectors or teachers. There is a perceived lack of support by OFSTED for inspectors who are in the line of fire. After all, it is OFSTED that has trained every single inspector.

"OFSTED has just been awarded Investors in People status - but we would ask: 'Which people'?"

Letter, 26

Research Focus, 32

Institute of Registered Inspectors e-mail

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