Ofsted to lay bare inspectors' credentials

12th October 2012 at 01:00
It aims to restore confidence by revealing backgrounds of HMIs

First Ofsted admitted that it does not hold information about its inspectors' teaching experience. Then one of the firms that supplies inspectors to the watchdog revealed that some do not even have basic teaching qualifications.

After seeing its reputation take a substantial knock in recent months, Ofsted has decided to come clean. In January, it will publish details of the backgrounds of all inspectors on its website.

This will mean that, for the first time, schools and colleges will be able to find out exactly who is passing judgement on them. Most significantly, they will know in what sector an inspector gained experience at the chalk face, how high up the managerial ladder they progressed and, potentially, when they last taught a class themselves.

More curious school leaders may even be able to use the information to discern whether the inspector sitting on the other side of the desk has first-hand experience of running an outstanding school.

The news was welcomed by Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "It was a major concern that Ofsted didn't know the qualifications and background of its inspectors, so I am very pleased that Ofsted has responded positively to concerns about this," he said.

"It is essential that schools and the public can have confidence that the people carrying out inspections are appropriately qualified and experienced to undertake this high-stakes task, which can have far-reaching implications for schools and their staff."

Stephen Ball, who has led several outstanding schools over the past 18 years and currently holds the title of executive director of New Charter Academy in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, has taken a close interest in the background of Ofsted's inspectors.

In April, TES revealed how Mr Ball's request for information about the history of Her Majesty's Inspectors (those directly employed by Ofsted and widely regarded as the leading exponents of the inspection regime) forced the watchdog to admit that it "does not hold" details of how many HMIs have led an outstanding school themselves, or whether they have worked in the primary or secondary sector.

Concerns were exacerbated when it emerged in July that Tribal, one of the main firms that carries out inspections on behalf of Ofsted, was employing at least five lead inspectors who did not hold qualified teacher status. Tribal emailed the rest of its inspectors to find out if there were any others.

Mr Ball welcomed Ofsted's plan to publish information about its inspectors. "I feel it's a good move to establish the credibility of the inspection force. Many schools, especially with the problems with the (grading of) English GCSEs, have found that they are below the floor targets. We need to ensure the inspectors are appropriately experienced," he said.

In response to a more recent Freedom of Information request by Mr Ball about the latest batch of HMI recruits, Ofsted was more forthcoming.

Of the 11 new employees, four have worked as heads in secondary schools and one has held the role of assistant head. Four of these five have come from schools rated outstanding for their leadership, while the other has come from a school that was classed as good.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "As part of a drive to be transparent and open, Ofsted will be publishing information relating to inspectors' teaching experience from January 2013. Details of this will be published in due course."

The background of both HMIs and additional inspectors hired by private sector providers will be published, she added.

DO NOT DISCUSS

Ofsted inspectors working for Tribal have been told not to discuss Sir Michael Wilshaw's controversial views with teachers.

Days after the outspoken chief inspector said teachers who are "out the gate at three o'clock" should not be paid as much as their hard-working colleagues, an email sent to inspectors said: "It is possible that whilst on inspection you may be asked about these comments.

"You must politely decline any opportunity presented to enter into discussion with school staff or other individuals about comments made by (Her Majesty's Chief Inspector)."

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