School inspections lambasted by inspectors

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The Independent Online
SCHOOL INSPECTIONS are being "dumbed down" because of budget cuts and poor management by the Office for Standards in Education, Ofsted's inspectors said yesterday.

They accused Ofsted and Chris Woodhead, its head, of forcing thousands of talented inspectors out of the system by squeezing budgets and increasing workloads. They told MPs schools were not getting the high-quality service they needed to raise standards.

Geoff Penzer, director of one of the leading agencies supplying school inspectors, said in a submission that Ofsted's policies "are leading to a haemorrhage of many of the best inspectors and a general `dumbing down' of the inspection process. It's a recipe for mediocrity."

Individual school inspectors also joined the attack, accusing Ofsted of cutting the budget for inspections by half, forcing thousands of the best staff out of the system.

The Commons Education Select Committee heard inspection teams often had to meet in their hotel the night before visiting a school to discuss their work. In most cases, pressure of work meant inspectors could only spare five minutes to give a teacher feedback and advice on their work.

Inspectors and contractors said scrutiny of schools had increased since Ofsted was created, but that could be lost because experienced staff were leaving for better-paid work.

Inspectors are all freelance or agency staff who bid for Ofsted contracts to produce school reports. The pay of registered inspectors, who lead Ofsted teams, has been cut from pounds 5,000 per report to pounds 2,500, inspectors say. But individual team members can get as little as pounds 160 for each day they spend in a school, a sum which covers expenses and "writing up" time as well as the school visit itself.

A survey by the Institute of Registered Inspectors of Schools found nearly 80 per cent thought pay rates were too low and "endanger the quality of inspections". Fifty-five per cent said the system of checking the quality of inspection reports was unsatisfactory.

Andy Barson, past president of the National Association of Educational Inspectors, Advisors and Consultants, said: "Schools are happy with the process, but the pressure on time is a problem for the team to do what is required and the end result is not of the quality required."

The findings echo the repeated complaints of teachers' leaders who have praised inspectors but attacked reports for inaccuracy and criticised Ofsted for demoralising teachers.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Mr Woodhead surely will have difficulty ignoring the criticisms of his own contractors, which reflect the criticisms of teachers. He can no longer dismiss the criticisms as self-interested and unfounded."

An Ofsted spokesman said last night: "If people leave, that's fine. We are confident that we have enough inspectors and enough high-quality inspectors in the system to maintain quality and to push it up, as we are doing all the time."