Action urged on education `closed shop'

A survey says that half of school lay inspectors have not worked in two years since training. Judith Judd reports
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The Independent Online
About three-quarters of those trained by the Government to become lay inspectors of schools are so disillusioned that they are preparing to leave, according to a new survey.

The report by the National Association of Lay Inspectors reveals that half of the 1,235 approved lay inspectors have never worked since they trained nearly two years ago. They say education is "a closed shop" with a few lay inspectors monopolising all the work.

Under the new system run by the Office for Standards in Education (OSE), independent contractors tender for school inspection contracts. The Government insisted that each team should have a lay inspector to provide a non-professional view.

The survey found that nearly 80 per cent of inspections were done by local authority teams who picked their own lay inspectors.

Colin Burgess, the association's secretary, said last night: "The independent system of inspections is eroded and unless there is a quick change about 75 per cent of all authorised lay inspectors will leave the system by the end of the year."

Questionnaires were circulated to all lay inspectors and nearly 500 replied. One respondent said: "Inspector cliques have been formed from old pals' networks which outsiders cannot penetrate. Originally, I thought the inclusion of a lay inspector in a team was a good idea. In practice, it has been exposed as tokenism."

Some of the lay inspectors had done 30 inspections, meaning they were employed virtually full-time.

Val Rush, the association's chairman, who has not done any inspections since being trained, said: "This is almost full-time employment. The question is when do you stop being a lay inspector and become a professional?"

Others have received no work despite writing dozens of letters of application. "I feel there is no point in continuing unless there is a system I do not know about for gaining inspection work," said one.

The inspectors complained about the amount of paperwork. They calculated that payment was just 50p an hour, taking into account meetings, inspections and report-writing.

A spokesman for the OSE said: "It would worry us if 75 per cent of lay inspectors decided to remove themselves from the lists. It would limit choice and would be a waste of taxpayers' money."

t Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, yesterday restated the Government's opposition to funding the teachers' 2.7 per cent pay award, saying schools should manage their money better. Councils say thousands of teachers will be sacked if education spending cuts go ahead.

Mrs Shephard told the Industrial Society that few schools evaluated the cost of their plans. "Effective financial management means considering the costs and opportunities of alternative plans."

Governors in Lancashire meet tonight to discuss whether to join those in Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire in resigning or setting deficit budgets. The county council says 400 teachers' jobs may have to go.