Pat Jefferson admits she has been on a steep learning curve since the Office for Standards in Education was set up three years ago. As a senior inspector in an advisory team of 11 in North Tyneside, she has had to add business plans and OFSTED inspections to her repertoire of skills.
The service relies on OFSTED commissions for 40 per cent of its funding, so Pat is now also a trainer for OFSTED, as well as fulfilling the more traditional role of giving advice and support to local schools.
Balancing both aspects of the work is challenging. "Our working week is phenomenal," she said. "Our schools have been very concerned about any possible loss of support and we can't afford to neglect what they say they need from us. There is more work out there than we can handle."
Pat now spends 30 per cent of her time on OFSTED commissions, but she is convinced that this has a positive effect on her other work. "It gives a new impetus and a sharpened focus to our advisory role," she said. "I'm a better adviser because I'm an inspector and vice versa."
Fortunately, the Tyneside team does not also have to market its skills or negotiate commissions with schools because close ties still exist. Link inspectors liaise with schools and advisers, and there is a forum where advisers, governors and teachers can discuss priorities.
But to survive the pressures, Pat thinks teamwork and a supportive working atmosphere are essential. She says networking with colleagues all over the country is also important, and speaks of opportunities for her own professional development as "a lifeline".
"To stay in control, you need to talk to others and stay abreast of political and educational changes," she said. "I've enjoyed having to learn a lot in a short time, but I'm aware there is a danger of becoming burnt-out or cynical. "