Ready for inspection?

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Some may see it as consorting with the enemy, but there is a positive job to be done as an OFSTED inspector.

My mother never drove a car in her entire life, but for some reason she had a deep aversion to traffic wardens. "Who'd do it?" she used to say. "A lazy man's job, walking about all day putting people in the wrong." It's something of a consolation for her passing that she never lived to see me become a registered inspector. I know she would have sympathised with the head I was recently coaxing into considering OFSTED training who responded, "Are you trying to make an informer of me?" It is a view shared by many of his colleagues, who regard paid involvement with OFSTED as collaborating with the enemy.

In view of such professional hostility, it is advisable for prospective candidates to establish whether inspection is a sufficiently honourable career for self-respecting people.

Inspection, carried out by skilled professionals, can be a positive force, enhancing the performance of teachers, and thus the education of pupils, and improving public understanding. For those who do it well - the majority - inspection is a worthy occupation. But is it a rewarding career? Is it wise to relinquish a secure occupation to inspect full time? The answer depends on individual circumstances.

In the current - and first - inspection cycle, the secondary seam is almost exhausted, but plenty of work remains to be done in the primary sector and in special education. If the present government stays in power, there will be a second round, though on a six-year cycle. This would obviously reduce employment opportunities, though it might be partially offset by more frequent inspection of schools with serious weaknesses. A further "inspection front" is being opened in connection with nursery vouchers, though those inspecting this pre-school education will be a highly specialist group, probably recruited from outside the existing OFSTED ranks.

It now seems unlikely that a Labour administration would dispense with inspection, although it may assume a radically different form. So inspection, in one form or another, will still be with us at the turn of the century.

The main players in the inspection game are OFSTED, which is split into teams of Her Majesty's Inspectors and Additional Inspectors; the Institute of Education; local authority inspectoradvisers; and private contractors. The latter pair dominate the market. It is likely, however, that LEA contracting will significantly decline, as the incongruity of deploying local authority teams around the country at the expense of local work becomes more pronounced.

So who is eligible to become an inspector? At primary and special school level, inspectors must have headship and deputy experience; OFSTED is also considering the possibility of involving successful, class-based teachers. At secondary level, a minimum requirement would be experience as a head of department.

Almost all full-time inspectors are retired from headship, teaching or inspectionadvisory work, where a host of people have been made redundant in recent years as LEAs have delegated funding responsibilities to schools. For these people, inspection represents a well-paid means of remaining in contact with education and making a contribution, free from the responsibilities of institutional leadership.

Some primary heads are taking early retirement to devote themselves to inspection; presumably they have calculated that there will be sufficient work to make the switch financially worthwhile.

It is worth considering the other side of the coin: while OFSTED work provides treasured access to school, the drudgery of back-to-back inspection may not necessarily bring creative fulfilment.

HOW MUCH DOES IT PAY? OFSTED pays the salaries of seconded Additional Inspectors together with their living and travel expenses. The most remunerative of the private contractors pay around Pounds 4,000, plus some expenses, for managing a five-day inspection (which takes between 10 and 12 days, depending on individual workstyles and rates).

Since most private contractors recommend that registered inspectors restrict themselves to about a dozen inspections annually - though some squeeze in more - it is possible for the best paid to earn more than Pounds 50,000 a year. Team members, free of management burdens, are recruited to inspect subjects and particular "aspects" and are seldom employed for the duration of the inspection. They can earn around Pounds 250-280 a day, with accommodation and travel expenses added.

It is also worth remembering that a flourishing trade has grown up in providing pre- and post-inspection support to schools.

HOW TO BECOME AN OFSTED INSPECTOR: * Apply to OFSTED to train as a team member. The rigorous training, which takes a couple of months, comprises a few days' tuition on a residential basis and some distance learning. Successful candidates satisfy a demanding, all-day assessment consisting of written assignments.

* Reply to OFSTED advertisements for Additional Inspectors. Candidates seconded on a two-termone-year basis are selected by interview; their intensive training includes membership of Her Majesty's Inspectorate lead teams, before they assume registered inspector duties. Many headteachers, qualified as Additional Inspectors, continue to inspect, remunerating their schools for the temporary loss of their services.

* If you have some experience as a team member, you can become a registered inspector. Candidates, selected on the basis of a submitted portfolio, undergo an interview that includes written assignments and evaluated group discussions, all designed to determine their capacity for management and organisation, for effective oral and written communication, and for leading teams in making balanced, valid judgments.

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