Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Association of Lay Inspectors (ALI) (OFS 06)


  1.  The schedule of what inspectors are expected to do has become overloaded relative to the time-scale permitted. Inspection scrutiny is necessarily thinner overall than it was.

  2.  Resultant pressures have caused the morale of inspectors to become fragile.

  3.  Lay inspectors, representatives of the public, are for the first time anxious about their standing. Although OFSTED requires them to undertake at least 5 days' training a year, and acknowledges the continuing very high quality of their special contribution, lay inspectors suffer certain disadvantages compared to their inspection colleagues, not least the official presumption that the more experience they obtain the less qualified they might be to remain as inspectors. The contrary is in fact true.

    In the disturbed wake of their portrayal in paragraphs 59-61 of Improving inspection, improving schools, the morale of the existing loyal lay inspector workforce has received a severe buffeting.

  4.  Lay inspectors regard OFSTED's intended recruitment of more lay inspectors as sensible and necessary but numbers need to be proportionate to the capacity available within the system for appropriate training and natural deployment.

  5.  Consultation between OFSTED and lay inspectors has improved during the past year but outcomes, in most instances, are currently uncertain.

  6.  The far-reaching changes proposed for OFSTED's contracting regime give rise to some significant worries.



  7.  In addition to the Framework, for which detailed prescriptive guidance is supplied in OFSTED's Handbooks for Inspecting, further amplification and instruction is communicated through Updates. These are issued approximately every term. Particular topics on which to focus may also be the subject of discrete guidance booklets, such as those issued for Evaluating educational inclusion, Writing about educational inclusion, and Inspecting pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

  8.  To cite a recent example, Appendix A to Update 38 lists 22 questions or actions always to be addressed when inspecting attendance, and an additional 23 which should be pursued when standards of attendance are below national benchmark levels. A glance at the discrete guidance booklets is enough to show that consideration of the theme is to be pursued across all inspection aspects, and report paragraph writing is enjoined to reflect this clearly.

  9.  It must be questioned as to how far these excellent aspirations are realistic. Even for such an important area as educational inclusion, OFSTED inspectors have been allocated no additional time beyond what they had before. To lay inspectors, who come from the real world, this is not just surprising but disgraceful.

  10.  A memorandum from ALI reflecting these concerns more fully was submitted to OFSTED earlier this year. It is quoted as Attachment A.


  11.  While the state of inspection morale is difficult to prove, since fuzzy evidence is inherently arguable, it can readily be appreciated that stress is likely to occur when job size increases without appropriate allowances.

  12.  The brunt of leadership and responsibility on each inspection is borne by registered inspectors. Their attitudes are therefore a sensitive pointer to the whole. A small survey (of 85 respondents) conducted by the Institute of Registered Inspectors of Schools in June 2002 indicated that half had decreased their activity during 2001-02, and that a third intended to decrease their activity during 2002-03.

  13.  Principal reasons given for this were:
Length of working day/week 41%
Increased report writing requirements36%
Pressure of time to complete inspection 32%
Level of fees in relation to hours of work 29%
More attractive consultancy opportunities 28%
Pressure of HMI monitoring26%

  14.  Few team members have been applying to become registered inspectors, and many have declined to do so when approached by contractors. The underlying difficulties of the job remain.

Lay inspector unease

  15.  An unrealistically large number of lay inspectors, more than 1,500, were recruited and trained from 1992 to 1994. Consequently many found that they were unable to get early employment on teams. Some lost interest and dropped out, though OFSTED did increase opportunities for employment at the time of the Additional Inspector project.

  16.  No recruitment of lay inspectors has taken place since that time. Through natural processes, but also resulting from certain training obligations added by OFSTED, numbers have progressively fallen to the current figure of 377. Every Section 10 inspection has to have a lay inspector on the team. In 2000-01 4,447 such inspections took place, around the usual number. On average therefore each lay inspector could be expected to undertake some 10 inspections annually, equivalent to at least three a term. Contractors quite naturally have been keen to assure themselves of an adequate supply and seek, at an early stage, to match up their commitments. It is not surprising, therefore, that some lay inspectors, with available capacity, have done many inspections. Over a 10 year spell, without casting aspersions, one might expect an averagely active lay inspector to have inspected about 100 schools, and those in demand to have done considerably more.

  17.  It is not surprising that some lay inspectors "have done more inspections than their non-lay colleagues".

  18.  Paragraph 59 of Improving inspection, improving schools referred to this as "a permanent pool of full-time lay inspectors". It went on to imply that many in this pool did not match OFSTED's wish to have "a range of people from outside the world of education whose independent perspective, wider experience, and understanding of the local community, could be brought to bear on the work of schools."

  19.  To ascertain the facts ALI conducted a postal questionnaire of all lay inspectors (not merely its own members) in September 2001. Replies were received from 193 out of 550, or 35% of the then total. The following statistics resulted:
Inspections undertaken since starting . . . 0-4950-99 100-149150+
Percentage of respondents36 272413
Percentage of following within each category:
Main income ?520 4655
Active charitable/community participation? 403956 70
Experience on school governing body?42 554250

  The above suggests that:—

    (a)  lay inspectors as a whole have a broad spread of inspection experience, not unduly polarised;

    (b)  inspection is not the main source of income for the majority;

    (c)  substantial proportions across all the activity categories are active in their local communities, including in the governance of schools. Dynamic individuals may show these qualities across many fronts.

  20.  Lay inspectors continue to be characterised by independent perspective. This has not been sapped by the acquisition of greater knowledge about how schools work. On the contrary, lay efficiency and effectiveness have been increased by knowing what questions to ask and when. Lay inspectors' confidence to speak out among educationalists, and the respect accorded to them, has been enhanced. Indeed, responding to one question (among 10) in ALI's questionnaire, only a handful said they had received adverse comments from HMI monitors, and many, more than one in four, added they are used to receiving compliments from HMI. It is therefore difficult to understand what qualities the existing lay inspector population lacks and by which it deserves to be cut down. Grass-roots comment has been harsh.

Balanced recruitment of lay inspectors

  21.  Regular refreshment of the pool of lay inspectors is self-evidently sensible, and should hardly require determination, merely ongoing organisation.

  22.  Paragraphs 16 and 19 above suggest that the existing pool is anything but stagnant, although depletion, by accident and otherwise, has taken place over the years. Depletion from natural causes will continue and fresh inputs are necessary.

  23.  The greater diversity sought is desirable but may be difficult to obtain. In particular, economics of inspection mean that to recoup expenses a minimum level of inspection activity is necessary. The cost of training investment, both for the individual and OFSTED, must be justified. Repeated experience is essential to establish confidence and, for example, the skill of focused economy in writing. Time considerations, and late changes to planned schedules, mean that lay inspection is not easily combined with the exigencies of a normal daily job.

  24.  Contractors face additional costs in employing new lay inspectors while lay capacities on task develop. It would be just to recognise this by way of incentive rather than to impose assimilation through dictat.

  25.  A note from ALI reflecting concerns connected with recruitment, and especially with training and subsequent employment, was submitted to OFSTED earlier this year. It is quoted as Attachment B.


  26.  In addition to ALI's opportunities to raise lay matters through OFSTED's termly Inspectors' Forum, several welcome developments have taken place. All lay inspectors were invited to a series of conferences, held regionally, in spring 2002. This new initiative, in which HMI were keen to hear the perceptions of lay inspectors as well as to share fresh strands of thought, was very well received. OFSTED's considered conclusions are awaited with interest.

  27.  All-round consultation took place in connection with Improving inspection, improving schools and the results of this have been announced. That process occasionally is to be welcomed although, if consulted, ALI would have advised against presenting the matter of lay inspectors in the tendentious terms used. It has only done harm.

  28.  Following representations, members of the Inspectors' Forum were invited to comment informally on the draft Inspection Framework. Much appreciation was expressed by all for many attentive observations and good dialogue. Later drafts have not been seen. Outcomes will no doubt be announced following trial in the current pilot inspections.

  29.  ALI was pleased to be consulted in December regarding outline plans for OFSTED's lay conferences in the spring. Comments made were said to have been helpful. Similarly, ALI has been pleased to be asked to provide thoughts relating to new lay inspector recruitment and training. Outcomes will no doubt be announced shortly.

  30.  OFSTED have always responded favourably to ALI's invitation for a topical keynote speaker to address members attending the AGM.


  31.  ALI gleans that contractors were informed during the holidays in mid-August that OFSTED proposes far-reaching changes to the contracting system so as to place inspection responsibility primarily in the hands of a small number of large organisations.

  32.  Details of this are not yet known. ALI observes:

    (a)  small contractors are often seen to be closer and more effective relative to each inspection than large providers;

    (b)  inspectors value greatly the core value of independence which working for several contractors allows. In the event of dispute they can vote with their feet, and have choices to avoid being unduly pressurised; and

    (c)  core principles of open competition have hitherto likewise ensured an unslanted and progressive approach to delivering quality reports. Frequent competitive activity across the field spurs contractors on to improve their methods.


  33.  The Association of Lay Inspectors (ALI) was formed in 1993. Its first aim has remained unchanged: To improve the standard of the inspection service. Membership has generally increased year on year. Paid-up membership currently consists of 161 lay inspectors spread across England and Wales and is a growing proportion of the lay inspector workforce. Members who attend value ALI's training days, generally held termly in London and Manchester. Members support each other by way of information, discussion and help using ALI's email group. In this way, difficulties may be shared and reactions expressed. The experiences and opinion of lay inspectors belonging to the Association, almost half of the whole, can be gauged at any instant.

September 2002

Attachment A


  The purpose of this note is to flag up some of the more important elements concerning increasing time pressure on inspectors. The desired result is that OFSTED should adjust tariff arrangements to reflect current practicalities.

  1.  The Inspector Forum was told in January 2001 that the tariffs from the first Framework in 1994 were still being used. This caused surprise. Inspectors urged that further research should be undertaken as inspectors' workload had increased. No further report to the Forum has been made.

  2.  OFSTED will appreciate that reports are now much more thorough, and backed by more detail, than they were in 1994. In particular, a considerable increase in workload resulted from introduction of the 2000 Framework and its associated documentation. The RCJ, for instance, contained some 40% more scoring categories than the JRF. Notebook requirements have been a significant addition. Many more EFs than the former OFs are written because of these expectations (by an estimated factor of 50%).

  3.  Collaterally, more time is absorbed in pre-inspection briefings and periods set aside for notebook completion/reflection. Feedback to teachers and others has expanded greatly since 1994, and is set to increase further. The RI's overall monitoring role, to the detail of each EF, has become much more accentuated. Contractors, spurred by OFSTED's QA regime, expect detailed monitoring reports from the RI on each inspector's work, and each inspector has similarly to make a structured report on the RI (and the contractor's own performance).

  4.  Further increases in work are frequently communicated between Frameworks, normally, but not exclusively, through Updates. Educational inclusion is a classic: inspectors and contractors were quick to draw attention to the time implications; the response was that they were merely expected to "inspect smarter"; and now every report has obligatorily to include several/many references to EI! Where is the "quid pro quo"? Who suffers?

  5.  OFSTED has adopted a policy of reducing the amount of documentation provided by the school before inspection. This no doubt helps schools but it puts greater strain on inspectors. Not least it means that more has to be asked for/found and read during the inspection days. There is less knowledge at the outset; it has to be obtained "on the wing". This is an additional burden within an inspection week.

Attachment B


  From the recent members' meetings, in London and Manchester, there was general approval of assisting new LI trainees. Important points which emerged were:

  1.  The training which LIs need is considerably different from TIs. It is thought that OFSTED may not be sufficiently conscious of this. The level of basic knowledge of education matters, and of what happens in schools, is greatly less. Such knowledge should not be assumed; it needs to be built in.

  2.  Nothing can equal, or replace, the value of in-school inspection experience. Trainees therefore need as much as possible of this. But see 3 below.

  3.  Not all LIs would be willing, even if capable, to mentor trainee LIs.

    (a)  The concentration necessary to fulfil a normal inspection commitment, given the breadth of task and limitation of time, is already very heavy.

    (b)  It is a cause of real disquiet and worry as to what a mentoring role might require.

    (c)  Undoubtedly extra time (or an extra LI, which amounts to something similar) would be required. Payment for what could be quite arduous (more so than with a TI; see 1 above) must also enter the equation.

  4.  A conclusion therefore reached was that:

    (a)  given the number of existing LIs available (around 370), and

    (b)  the number of inspections available during the training period (over which these existing LIs would be spread), and

    (c)  probable reluctance by many to add to their contracted principal inspection task

  it may be physically impossible to deliver adequate training to 200 more before September 2003. It might be much more sensible to take in, say, 50 instead of 200 during that period. The methodologies could be tried out, almost as a pilot, before a greater number were put through the following year.

  5.  This phasing would also recognise the initial difficulties of:

    (a)  the definitive Framework to be used from September/2003 not being available until November/2002 at the earliest;

    (b)  inspections meanwhile having to be conducted on the rather different 2000 model and trainees having to master two during their training period;

    (c)  contractors having to ascertain which existing LIs are capable and willing to undertake teaching and mentoring;

    (d)  LIs having to acquire and hone up the new skills required (with also much to be learnt through experience);

    (e)  all inspections during the training period having had LIs already contracted, with commitments fixed;

    (f)  LIs, who otherwise may be heavily committed in their ordinary, non-inspection, lives, not having set aside additional time for new LI-training purposes.

  6.  Importantly to all concerned, the influx of 50, rather than 200, new LIs would give a much better chance of them being sensibly assimilated into active inspection work. Because of being fewer, this arrangement would give the newcomers more chances of building up their experience, giving them continuous practice. This would also minimise distress to RIs and contractors as they, necessarily, spend time adjusting the initially raw outputs which, by continuous practice, should become less raw more quickly. It would also lessen the chances of OFSTED being forced into the threatened unpopular (and unfair) reserve measures of penalising contractors and ousting LIs to achieve the objective of refreshed-LI employment. You may, incidentally?!, already know that some contractors are saying they will pay new LIs (at any rate, initially) less than existing ones.

Programme perhaps best geared to50 in 2002-03
75 in 2003-04
75 in 2004-05

  and at least 50 pa thereafter to cover natural losses?

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