The latest rescue operation that the Office for Standards in Education has mounted to save its foundering primary school inspection scheme may yet haul it off the rocks.
OFSTED has had an overwhelming response to its appeal for headteachers and deputies willing to work as inspectors for a year and is now predicting that it will be able to send 200 of the poachers-turned-gamekeepers into schools in September.
Jonathan Lawson, OFSTED's spokesman, said that there had been 3,500 responses to the adverts for "additional inspectors" that appeared in The TES February 10 and 17 editions. "We eventually received 1,300 applications," he said. "It was a very successful response to just two adverts."
The 168 applicants who made the shortlist took part in three training and assessment courses last week, but a further course for other applicants who have yet to be shortlisted is expected to be held in May.
"We'll also be recruiting some additional inspectors in January, 1996, but we don't yet know how many we will need," Jonathan Lawson said.
The huge response to the adverts was perhaps surprising because some heads have publicly criticised both the pay and conditions that OFSTED is offering.
Heads and deputies who are recruited to do this work will continue to be paid their normal salary, plus expenses, and OFSTED will reimburse their local authorities. In between inspections the seconded heads and deputies will work from home, but they may also have to do a great deal of travelling as OFSTED has said they cannot be guaranteed inspections in their own region.
One Kent head, Carol Rookwood, wrote to The TES earlier this month to say she was distinctly unimpressed by the offer. "Sorry OFSTED," she wrote. "Nice try, but you'll have to come up with something better than this miserable package if you want to attract serving headteachers into your ranks."
OFSTED's argument, however, is that although the inspection work will certainly not be a "soft option" it will broaden heads' understanding and knowledge of the education system. The experience may also count towards a higher degree.
OFSTED has had to resort to recruiting heads and deputies because the Government wants every one of the 20,000 primary and special schools in England to be inspected during the next four years.
It has already tried to increase the rate of inspections by drafting in HMIs, and by allowing inspection teams to tender for batches of up to 20 schools rather than submit an individual bid for each school inspection.
Nevertheless, it is still considerably behind schedule. Some 777 primary schools were inspected in the autumn term - 460 fewer than the target figure, and this term's tally of 790 is only marginally better, given that the spring target was 1,260.
During the summer term a further 910 inspections are due to be carried out but 186 of them will be conducted by HMI teams.