Senior Ofsted inspectors have been allowed to pass judgement on schools despite lacking even basic teaching qualifications, TES has learned.
Tribal, one of the major firms that carries out inspections on behalf of the watchdog, employs at least five lead inspectors who do not have qualified teacher status (QTS), it has emerged.
A leaked email, sent to all Tribal inspectors, reveals that the company does not keep any detailed records of the backgrounds of its inspectors. The email asks inspectors to let Tribal know whether they are qualified teachers, something the company says has previously "not been an issue".
Concerns were raised after Ofsted admitted in April that it did not know how many of Her Majesty's Inspectors, the senior inspectors whom it employs directly, had experience of leading schools or whether they worked in primaries or secondaries.
But the discovery that some lead inspectors do not have QTS "takes this to a whole new level", warned Adrian Prandle, policy adviser at the ATL education union. "Anyone who makes judgements about teaching must have the ability to do that themselves and understand what it's like to do the job. If inspectors are coming to schools, they need to be experts. No wonder they cannot command teachers' respect," he said.
The email sent by Tribal to its inspectors said: "No doubt you are aware of the recent media scrutiny into the background of inspectors. In the past this has not been an issue and so we have not asked inspectors to provide us with information about their background.
"Clearly this situation is changing and we need to have accurate records as to whether our inspectors have qualified teacher status (QTS) England."
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, described the situation as "quite scary stuff". "I don't know how anyone who isn't qualified could provide a meaningful assessment of the quality of teaching," he said. "Schools' reputations and teachers' careers are made and broken on the basis of these reports. Parents think they are authoritative."
Last month, Tribal was criticised for the use of "cut and paste" stock phrases in two of its inspection reports that had been used to put schools in special measures. The company describes itself as "Ofsted's largest inspections contractor", and claims on its website to have carried out more than 7,000 inspections since 2005.
Evidence given to the Commons Education Select Committee last year revealed that the three major firms contracted by Ofsted - Tribal, Serco and CfBT - provided about 60 per cent of the lead inspectors for schools.
While Ofsted no longer uses lay inspectors (non-teachers who used to look at provision not related to teaching), some of them are believed to be still employed by the private providers.
CfBT refused to reveal whether its inspectors have QTS.
A Serco spokesman said: "All of our inspectors are experienced, fully trained and approved by Ofsted in accordance with the standards required to carry out such duties."
Last month, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said Ofsted was looking to recruit "high quality" inspectors with experience in outstanding or good schools who "know what they are talking about".
A Tribal spokeswoman said the company was awaiting clarification from Ofsted about whether it could continue using its lead inspectors who do not have QTS. "The communication in question went out to all inspectors on our database, including those who are not currently inspecting for Tribal, to check whether there are any others without QTS," she said.
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, described Tribal's statement as "absolutely extraordinary".
"It is essential for the credibility of the inspection service that anyone who is inspecting a school has the appropriate qualifications and experience in that sector," he said. "It is extremely worrying that a contractor is not aware of its inspectors' backgrounds. I have no problem with a lay inspector carrying out a role in inspections, but anyone who is evaluating the teaching profession should be suitably qualified."
A spokeswoman for Ofsted said that it also does not hold Her Majesty's Inspectors' CVs or details of whether they hold QTS. However, it is able to provide schools and colleges being inspected with a "pen pic" of each inspector, outlining their previous teaching experience.
REPEAT AFTER ME
Last month, Ofsted and Tribal were criticised for publishing "cut and paste" inspection reports that used identical sentences and phrases. The claims were made after striking similarities were spotted in the reports for two London schools, Belvedere Junior and Malmesbury Primary.
Both schools were placed in special measures as a result of their reports, which were written by the same lead inspector, who was employed by Tribal. Although Ofsted stood by the judgements, a spokesman for Tribal admitted that "similarities noted in some of the wording caused concern".
Original headline: Lead inspectors who are unqualified to teach hired to judge schools