AN INSPECTOR WILL CALL
by John Platten
Paul Thompson had been working hard to get his 1,600-pupil secondary school ready for the next Ofsted inspection, due at any time. He knew the notice would be short, hence his drive and determination to have everything ready. Nothing would be left to the last minute or to chance. The last inspection had ended the career of his predecessor and Paul was not going to let that happen to him.
Planning had gone well, so far. The small review team Paul had assembled to evaluate all aspects of the school’s current performance: Mary White, his Deputy, Joe Mason his Head of English, his trusted PA Sheila Peebles and Chair of Governors Phillip Graham, had worked effectively to dissect various aspects of the school’s operation; only one nasty aroma persisted – boys’ PE – under the direction of Dave Marshall.
The publicity and clamour that accompanied his arrival had thrust the school into the local and national spotlight.
Marshall fancied himself as the real educational deal, and Paul didn’t like him or his attitude. With Marshall destined for a call up to England’s next Rugby World Cup squad, a career in professional rugby union had been cut short by injury. His six nations debut had been spectacular – tries, man-of-the-match nominations, TV interviews and a growing army of female and male fans on his various social media platforms – then the accident. Dave Marshall had been hosting a BBQ in his back garden when in an intoxicated state (this snippet would be kept from the press) the tomato ketchup bottle he was juggling slipped through his normally reliable hands and landed on his right foot, breaking several small bones, including the metatarsal. If only he’d gone for the cheaper brand in the plastic bottle.
The break had proved difficult to heal, months of protective boots, hospital visits and eventually corrective surgery had not fixed the problem. Twice a comeback seemed possible, but back on the grass with his boots on, the bone kept breaking. “Couldn’t stand the pressure of running and tackling” the consultant reported before asking for Dave’s autograph. Dave Marshall gave up and retired, falling back on the teaching qualification he gained during his rise to the top of rugby union.
Appointing Dave to the school had been an easy decision for Paul, Phillip and the Local Adviser – the publicity and clamour that accompanied his arrival had thrust the school into the local and national spotlight. It was a decision Paul was now regretting. Dave Marshall’s inability to ‘walk the walk’, even with a recovering right foot, did not match his ‘talking the talk’ in the interview room. What to do next? Paul reflected.
All the efforts of the internal review team had come to naught – Dave Marshall knew better. Marshall’s own view that he could turn any inspector’s head and opinion to his own way of thinking was grounded on his former, albeit short, career in rugby, not on his present performance in education. Mentoring, supervision, random visits to Marshall’s classes had all been tried and failed. Much to Paul and Phillip’s frustration, Marshall swatted away criticism, constructive or otherwise, with the racquet of arrogance.
He got to reception to find a life-size papier mâché figure of a man in a painted on pinstripe suit. In its left hand was a brief case and in its right hand was a rolled umbrella. At its feet was a decapitated head, wearing a bowler hat.
Marshall’s behaviour was starting to disrupt and undermine other aspects of inspection preparation, which was drawing ever closer. Bolstered by Marshall’s attitude and actions, other staff had now started to challenge the team’s approach and requirements. Only last week Molly Stewart, Head of Geography, supported by Dave Marshall, had shouted down a request from Sheila Peebles for more information about student attendance and participation in departmental extracurricular activities. It had taken Paul twenty minutes to get the full agreement of the Heads of Departments Group to action the request by this week. Due tomorrow, Paul remembered – better check this has been received. It took another half an hour and a good shot of the school’s medicinal brandy to restore Sheila to her usual, unflustered self.
Then there was the incident on the Governors’ Information Evening. Phillip and Paul had arranged monthly meetings to update all the governors on the progress of inspection preparation. The October meeting had got off to a bad start. Governors started complaining about a sculpture in reception when they arrived in the meeting room. Paul left them with Phillip while he went off to investigate. He got to reception to find a life-size papier mâché figure of a man in a painted-on pinstripe suit. In its left hand was a briefcase and in its right hand was a rolled umbrella. At its feet was a decapitated head, wearing a bowler hat. Paul called Tom Ross, the site supervisor, and asked him to remove it immediately. He rushed back to the meeting room to apologise to the governors, inform them of its removal, and get on with the business of the meeting.
The next morning Paul summoned Simeon Burns, Head of Art, to his office to confront him about the sculpture. Burns (I wish he would, thought Paul, unkindly) insisted it was a joke – nothing more and nothing less. He expressed his surprise that the governors hadn’t found it amusing. Simeon Burns confirmed that he was just as committed to a positive outcome from the inspection as other heads of department, referencing Molly Stewart and Dave Marshall as exemplars. Paul was still fuming from the previous night’s embarrassment, and yet, he remained calm in the face of an increasing enemy. He was sure Marshall was behind this latest incident and he was determined to end any attempted rebellion before it could spread further. This has got to stop, thought Paul, as he reflected on one last attempt to get Marshall et al into line.
The school’s reputation was on the line, all the work he had put in to turn the school around over the past four years was under threat, his own reputation was in jeopardy.
Like lots of successful sports people, Dave Marshall was a man of routine, repetition and discipline, Paul appreciated this. Dave Marshall always arrived early and went through his own daily workout programme, before classes, using the school’s equipment – “it was cheaper than joining a proper gym” he boasted.
When Paul entered the school gym, Dave was halfway through his daily set of rope climbs. Clearly not impressed to have Paul invading his territory, Dave blanked Paul and kept pulling himself, hand over hand, up the rope that hung from the ceiling. The higher Marshall climbed the more Paul’s frustration at being ignored grew – the school’s reputation was on the line, all the work he had put in to turn the school around over the past four years was under threat, and his own reputation was in jeopardy. An angry Paul stormed out of the gym.
Paul was thundering across the playground heading for the administration block, when the gym’s sprung wooden floor amplified the THUD. Better phone an ambulance; I hope they arrive in time, Paul thought as he unlocked his office door.
“Now, where did I put that repair requisition slip that Tom Ross gave me two weeks ago?” Paul muttered to himself as he reached for the phone.
I wonder which inspector will call first; Paul pondered as he dialled 999.
NorthernLife Nov/Dec 23