Pity the poor inspector;Talkback;Opinion

19th February 1999 at 00:00
Working for OFSTED brings precious little reward, writes someone who knows

Am I missing something? Our caring government has put education high on its agenda. Fine. It is rewarding teachers with slightly higher than usual pay rises - 3.5 per cent. No big deal, but fine. Many primary heads will receive more - 9.5 per cent. No problem. Chris WoodheadJrecently received a 34 per cent pay rise. Less fine. OFSTED inspectors receive a 56 per cent pay cut. Yes, pay cut. Ah!

I dare say few teachers care much about the working conditions of self-employed inspectors. Schools see suits and polished cars, laptops and document portfolios, silly ties. They perhaps see a soft option. Inspectors have hotel bills to pay, printer ink to buy, thesauruses to update.

But many inspectors are, or were, able headteachers who saw inspection as a wise career move. They are experienced professional, hard-working and positive about education. If anything, inspectors strive, not to lambast schools for mediocrity or worse, but to help them progress.

So what are our conditions? While registered inspectors (RGIs) in the past have been well rewarded, they are now on pound;2,800 to pound;3,000 an inspection at best. This is supposed to represent three to four weeks' work, and covers a wide range of expenses from copying a copse-worth of fascinating documents, to pouring copious quantities of unleaded into the Volvo. They have to visit schools before and after inspections. They also have responsibility for their teams - and countless other things. Three to four weeks of normal work could be shoe-horned into perhaps two weeks of hard graft, but OFSTED does not enjoy that prospect (nor should it) and limits an RGI's workload.

So bearing that in mind, and the number of weeks available in a term, he or she might achieve a comfortable dozen inspections a year - that is, pound;36,000, ever so slightly gross. When expenses have been paid, it might be nearer pound;22-25,000; and then the taxman descends. Compared to the salary (plus equivalent holiday) of a headteacher, this suddenly look less attractive. And then there are pensions, the stress factor, time away from home, the bureaucratic and emotional nightmare of failing schools, staying in those hotels.

It's a similar story for mere team inspectors. This is a lowly beast of burden. It trundles from school to school with bulging briefcase and fevered brow. It receives appreciably less. The sum per day is rapidly approaching pound;200, if not pound;180. And per day means per day of inspection, not per day of work, which can be double the inspection time. Then there's pre-inspection trawls and report-writing, evenings spent writing and re-writing the day's findings, the writing of a report. Subtract the costs of travel, accommodation, paracetamol, stationery, postage, vodka, laptop and more paracetamol, and supply teaching starts to look highly attractive.

Team inspectors' earnings have dropped by 56 per cent in potential weekly earnings. The annual earnings are down by nearer 70 per cent, thanks to the Government's cunning move to stretch the time between inspections from four to six years. We also now face short inspections for good schools. Fine. But all this means even fewer and fewer inspectors. There are simply too few schools to go round.

Oh, I almost forgot - the workload is going up as well, and so is the scrutiny from OFSTED. We now have to be deemed competent to inspect. I most definitely must be missing something. OFSTED selected us (carefully?) to train as inspectors and sent us out into schools to do its bidding. Now, it questions our suitability.

The answer is simple. Make quality and not money the main issue. Set a decent minimum price per inspection and (steady, now) pay more for very good results. Then we could soon have Superspector cruising through schools. Involve us all, fairly. We do not need constant love and jam doughnuts but we do need consideration. I am too jaded to be surprised by the shortcomings of the Government, too hard-bitten to be taken in by Blunkett's blandishments, too intelligent to be impressed by Woodhead's cold ambition. But I am still naive enough to be disappointed by the folly and meanness of them all. If they want scrumptious education rolling off the product line, they shouldn't jeopardise the quality control. Or am I missing something?

The author is a primary inspector. He wishes to remain anonymous

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