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Perfection personified

MY FIRST real day as a QIO. I am the representative of the Great Man himself. My mission is to go where no man has gone before - into the fortress that is Park Lane Primary.

The heidie is a known dinosaur, a believer in rote learning, chanting of tables, Wide Range Readers carefully wrapped in dummy covers to avoid detection by the untrained eye, football trophies, tuck shops, union politics, summer cruises and Rotary Club lunches.

As he is reportedly an active member of the local Orange Lodge, I'll bet he can't wait for the arrival of Mrs Bridget McElroy, formerly of St Pats, regular attendee at Mass and former Irish Dancing Silver Medallist. I have gone for neutrality in the wardrobe department - no blues, no greens and certainly no oranges.

I am greeted with false bonhomie, offered a coffee and ushered into the heidie's room. He avoids the low-level coffee table and sits behind his desk, arms folded and grinning smugly. He hates me. He resents my presence.

I know it. He knows I know it.

"So, Mrs McElroy, what can we do for you? What's the initiative today, then?" I could hear his teeth grinding as he spat out the words.

I explained the basics of A Curriculum for Excellence, but I could well have been trying to sell him a vacuum cleaner. He smiled conceitedly. Been there, done that, go away. I have been a heidie for 30 years and I have seen it all before.

His results were good. His HMIE report was antiseptic. His staff were terrified. The parents were well satisfied by his stewardship. They, too, had been his pupils and it hadn't done them any harm. He was untouchable.

As part of the survey I was to visit a P34 composite class. I was shown into Mrs Ferguson's room. They were like robots. They sat. They were silent. They might have been comatose. Mrs Ferguson was one of the heidie's favourites. Their families went on cruises together.

I was to ask the class to do some mental calculations. This wasn't what I was supposed to do, but Mrs Ferguson was so insistent. I saw one wee boy with a lovely smile. I was about to ask him some questions, but she suggested her "better" ones. I stuck with the smiler. He answered every calculation impressively. "That's very good, Jimmy," I said, genuinely impressed. "Very good? Very good?" he replied indignantly. "Ah'm only a P3, it's no just very good - it's bloody perfect!"

Mrs Ferguson almost fainted. The colour drained from her face. I almost saw the soapy water being fetched from the heidie's office. The rest of the visit was successful and I went back to Dinosaur Central. He was out - at a Rotary meeting. The *********.

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