Inspectors touting for business at schools

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The Independent Online

Education Editor

Members of privatised teams of school inspectors have been flouting their code of conduct and touting for business.

Entrepreneurial inspectors have been presenting their business cards to heads during inspections in the hope of winning more work. They have also been offering schools follow-up visits without making clear that they intend to charge for them.

Under the new system of inspections set up by the Government two years ago, privatised teams bid for school inspection contracts.

The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), which monitors inspections, has warned inspectors in its newsletter that "several schools have brought to our attention situations where inspectors were thought to be misusing their position in order to seek work in a consultancy capacity. Although such concerns can arise as a result of genuine misinterpretation of good intentions, we want to draw the dangers specifically to the attention of inspectors".

Professor Ted Wragg, director of Exeter University's school of education, said: "This is an example of public sleaze, when Ofsted has to write in these terms."

The newsletter points out that the code of conduct prohibits inspectors, who charge more than pounds 200-a-day, from using their position to secure more work where this would impugn their integrity. A science specialist, for example, might be tempted to suggest that a school's science was poor if he thought he might earn money by offering advice on science after the inspection. Or inspectors might be tempted to deliver a good report, if they thought the school might hire them for further work out of gratitude.

Ofsted has received many complaints about inspectors handing out business cards. The newsletter adds: "We also advise that where inspectors offer `free' advice following an inspection, the limits of what is being offered should be made clear and this should not be a prelude to seeking further paid work on the back of an inspection".

The suggestion is that some inspectors are offering to pop back to schools for a chat after an inspection and are then producing a bill. Ofsted said it was a very small problem. "We want to nip it in the bud and are playing safe by reminding inspectors of the code of conduct."

Professor Wragg said such problems were bound to arise when inspectors were part of businesses and had to earn their money. In a paper, to be published soon, he and Professor Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, will propose that Ofsted should be replaced by a linked network of local and national inspectors.