New attention is being paid to the in-service training and career development of school inspectors now that the Office for Standards in Education has embraced a quality assurance policy.
Since the 1997 Education Act came into force on September 1 the onus has been on contractors to ensure a high standard of report-writing, inspections and subject expertise. All registered inspectors must now ensure that team members are both "fit and proper" to carry out inspection and "competent and effective".
Both aims imply that a considerable amount of training will be needed to bring OFSTED's 8,763 team members and 2,118 registered inspectors (team leaders) up to speed. Mike Tomlinson, OFSTED's director of inspection, says: "Schools must have confidence in the inspection process. We have to ensure inspectors have the competence to do the job and deliver a fair report. We are talking about skills enhancement."
From September 1998 team inspectors and registered inspectors will be allowed to inspect only subjects in which they are deemed to be competent. Inspectors will therefore be asked to submit details of the subjects they claim competence in.
OFSTED is giving inspectors a year to brush up on their subject specialism and is negotiating with subject associations over training packages. Tomlinson says: "We don't want maths inspectors to be inspecting Urdu - they have to be clearly competent."
The task of training inspectors will fall mainly on the 50 contractors who organise and run OFSTED training programmes. OFSTED keeps a tight control on course content - it writes the training material, monitors the delivery and accredits individual trainers. The big training providers are Mill Wharf, Cambridge Education Associates (CEA), Manchester Metropolitan University and Nord Anglia, who not only train their own self-employed inspectors but other people's as well.
While training in areas such as special educational needs and teaching the under-fives is being presented as optional, some of the new programmes focusing on literacy, numeracy and IT will become compulsory from next year. Inspectors who want to remain on OFSTED's books will therefore have to start investing in continuous professional development.
David Tomlinson, principal consultant for CEA, says: "At present we train maybe 300 inspectors a year, three-quarters of whom are on our books. Next year, numbers could increase tenfold - it depends on how Ofsted awards the contracts and what proportion we win."
The problem is that part-time or retired inspectors - who may do only one inspection a term - may not have the means to invest in training and could drop out.
Tomlinson says: "The headteacher who inspects once a term to keep their hand in is a very valuable part of the picture and we don't want to lose these people." But the likelihood is that the new emphasis on training will create more opportunities for those who want to make a career out of inspection.
Chris Glyn, training manager of Nord Anglia, explains: "Contractors are under pressure to employ the best available. There's an expectation they will pick people with proven competence."
The quality assurance programme will have another important side-effect - it will reveal for the first time how many specialists OFSTED has in each subject. Brian McCafferty, head of OFSTED assessment and training, says: "Once we get the answers back we'll know far better than we do at present where the shortages are."