“Good morning, Miss Moneypenny,” I chirp, removing my face mask and pinging the elastic so that it sails in a perfect arc and attaches itself jauntily to the hatstand.
“I’m not sure it is,” Miss Moneypenny replies, tossing me a bottle of government-issue hand sanitiser. “M’s got a new mission for you. Strictly on Her Majesty’s secret ex-chief inspector service.”
She buzzes me through, and I enter the double set of doors into M’s office, with its oak panelling, leather seats and bookcases lined with every Ofsted report issued from 2012 to 2016.
M has his back to me, and for a moment I just stand there thinking about the 70-page risk assessment that I still haven’t completed for the school full reopening.
Finally, he swivels around in his black chair, silvery wisps of hair at his temples matching silver glasses resting on his nose. On his lap sits a pure white long-haired Persian cat, which he strokes lovingly.
Schools reopening: Sacrifice your life
“I’ve been expecting you,” he says, pushing a dossier a few inches towards me on the desk. But it’s not for my eyes only. It’s the all too familiar Schools Coronavirus Operational Guidance Document, February 2021.
“I have a new mission for you,” he says, inviting me to take a seat. “And I need you to go the extra mile this time, and be prepared to sacrifice your life, just like the doctors and nurses have done this year.”
For a moment, I feel shaken and stirred. I wonder if he’s lost his mind, then I remember he used to be head of Ofsted, so he’s already gone well beyond that.
“Sir Michael,” I finally stutter. “School staff have already gone more than their extra mile by working in schools for almost a year, while that evil villain Captain Covid popped bubble after bubble with a licence to kill everyone in his way.”
M seems unimpressed, and drums his fingers impatiently on the desk.
“And,” I continue, getting into my stride, “we’ve had just a thermometer gun, some fresh air and crossing our fingers as our only means of defending ourselves. It’s like the Casino Royale, with all the odds stacked against us.”
M raises an eyebrow, unmoved, so I continue my rant.
Coronavirus: Our secret weapon? The lateral flow test device
“The NHS staff have all had their vaccines now, but some of my staff won’t get theirs for another three months. With all the pupils coming back into school and all these new variants emerging, it’s a licence to kill and it scares the living daylights out of me.”
M snorts contemptuously, then silently opens a drawer in his desk and pulls out a small velvet bag.
“But Q has sent you this,” he smiles awkwardly, tipping the contents of the bag on to the desk.
I stare at the contents; my mouth goes dry and I’m suddenly desperate for a double vodka Martini on the rocks.
“It’s a lateral flow device,” M announces, holding it up for me to take. “Twenty millimetres by 60 millimetres, top-loading, semi-automatic, complete with a test line here and control line here. Seven in a box. It’s the most effective weapon we have.”
I stand up, take the white slide from him and consider inserting it forcibly up his nose.
“But that’s no use,” I protest instead. “It only tells us when Captain Covid has already arrived, by which time it’s too bloody late.”
M begins to speak again, but I cut him off.
“You have no authority here, Michael Wilshaw. No authority at all,” I shout, veering suddenly into a completely different news story, but one that seems somehow appropriate. “We don’t have to take our instructions from you. You’re not the chief inspector of schools any more. You just need to accept that and move on. So go back to your think tank and butt out of it. I’d rather die another day.”
And with that, I slam the lateral flow device on to his desk, storm out of the double doors and unhook my mask from the hatstand.
“Miss Moneypenny,” I say, taking another squirt of her hand sanitiser. “Can you help me finish off my risk assessment?”
Colin Dowland is a primary headteacher in North London. He tweets as @colindowland