Rejects smoulder outside 'closed shop'

6th October 1995 at 01:00
When it comes to finding work as a lay inspector it does appear that who you know is at least as important as what you know, researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University have confirmed.

The butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers that former Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke envisaged would be used to inspect schools have not had much of a look-in. The work has gone instead, the researchers say, to people who are rather closer to the education system than the Government might have wished.

David Hustler and Valerie Stone, who have questioned 200 lay inspectors, said that such work had become the domain of the professional middle class.

People they had interviewed had complained that there was a "closed shop" and that "the green shoots of impropriety" were springing up. And, to a certain extent, the complaints were borne out by their research. One registered inspector told them: "Many lay inspectors are the wives or husbands of educationists." Another admitted: "The one I use a lot is one of my neighbours. "

These recruitment practices have frustrated many lay inspectors who have failed to break into the circle. "I came away from the training enthusiastic, pencil sharpened, and then the work was not there," one lay inspector told Hustler and Stone. But the registered inspectors made no apologies for their actions. One said: "There seem to be some appalling lay inspectors and some very good ones . . . the message seems to be that when you get a really good one, you should hang on to him or her and not tell anyone else."

Usually it is a her because inspection teams need to have a gender balance and most registered inspectors are men. This summer's Office for Standards in Education survey found that 337 of the 481 lay inspectors who had never inspected a school were male.

Hustler and Stone's research corroborated both this finding and the suggestion that some lay inspectors have almost made a full-time career out of the work. The researchers acknowledge that such people have built up a considerable amount of valuable expertise but they question how "lay" they now are.

They suggest that if OFSTED is to remain true to the spirit of the legislation that created lay inspectors it should perhaps discriminate in favour of bids from inspection teams with novice inspectors, limit the number of inspections a lay inspector can carry out each year, and promise to offer at least one inspection immediately after training.

But as Hustler and Stone indicate, any new initiative from OFSTED is already too late for some. "Having waited and tried for up to two years to get on to an inspection team I am now completely switched off," one disgruntled reject said.

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