20th June 1997 at 01:00
The rigour and vigour with which the Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen goes about his work leaves Carborundum breathless with admiration. Be warned: nowhere is safe.

Or perhaps the following story is atypical, for some reason. It is the Friday afternoon at the end of national tests week at the 70-pupil Fellview primary in Caldbeck, tucked away in the Lake District.

The school's much-loved cook is leaving after 23 years. Teachers have provided their own gourmet send-off, remnants of which (salmon en croute, boeuf Wellington and Pavlova) are still lurking in the staffroom.

Meanwhile, the pupils have been letting off steam by doing some high-jump practice with a local volunteer and the headteacher has changed from her usual smart suit into a pink tracksuit, which is now grass-stained.

That session over, the children are back in their classrooms and the head is taking a swift breather in the staffroom when a teacher knocks at the door.

"There's someone to see you," she says.

"Who is it?" "The chief inspector," reports the teacher.

The head tries again. "No, who is it really?" "It's the chief inspector. "

This is not an unusual joke among chalk-wielders these days, so the head tries another tack. "So who is it pretending to be the chief inspector this time?" she inquired. And at that moment the grinning features of Mr Chris Woodhead appear behind the teacher in the doorway. He was just passing and had decided to pop in.

Lesser mortals than Frankie Hart, the head in question, might have been thrown by this. But Mr Woodhead was treated to the leftovers of lunch before being whisked on a guided tour of the school, and the gods of good fortune were smiling. "Do you know, everyone was doing whole-class teaching? And I managed to point out my power suit in a bag on my desk to prove I didn't spend the day in the pink tracksuit."

Mrs Hart also took him to task. "I managed to have a word with him about the messages he was sending to schools and how small schools, with their wide age ranges and abilities, would not find whole-class teaching the only method. Perhaps the media was sometimes getting the wrong message."

She added: "He was absolutely charming. Unfortunately, he told us that his visit wasn't going to affect our forthcoming inspection."

So, what did Mrs Hart think she had to thank for her own impromptu version of the classic An Inspector Calls? "We invited him to a seminar about OFSTED and I drove him from the station. He was visiting a local secondary school and he must have remembered. But it would have been nice if he'd phoned first. "

Absolutely no connection, then, with the fact that her husband of just under a year, David, just happens to be general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Can any staffroom be safe?

Every picture tells a story, and the two snaps sent to national newspaper this week are no exception.

Anonymous and untitled, the two poses of the same besuited man came in a plain brown envelope dressed only with a Department for Education and Employment compliments slip. It is fortunate, then, that Steve Byers - the ministerial Hammer of Dire Schools - is sufficiently ubiquitous in the media for his features to be instantly recognisable. Perhaps that was what the press office had in mind.

Anyway, why the handsome new portraits? Apparently Mr Byers was fretting about the out-of-date snaps which keep appearing in the nation's press, in many of which he is still sporting his old Labour moustache (now shaved in keeping with the new Labour 90s).

The two poses are also instructive for students of politics. There's the happy smile of new Labour, contrasted with the serious "We must act to raise standards now!" pose with hand slightly raised. Deliberate? "Oh yes," beams our Sanctuary Buildings mole. Moreover, there are more snaps en route: what other expressions are new Labour ministers permitted to sport?

So you thought that what OFSTED wrote about your school was the worst thing that could ever happen? St Monica's primary in the London Borough of Southgate has discovered that's not true.

The worst thing that can happen is if someone with a grudge against the school - and the wit to use a fairly ordinary computer - adds sentences to your official OFSTED report in an identical typeface and sends it to the local paper.

The rogue sentence slipped into the St Monica's report was: "Inspectors wanted to see an end to private tuition so the real value of the school can be assessed," a reference to the burgeoning market in after-hours coaching in north London and a service offered by two of the school's teachers.

The result? A letter home, an explanation during mass at the local Catholic Church, an apology in the local paper and bafflement at OFSTED. "How bizarre, " said a spokesman for the inspectorate. By the way: don't try this one at home. Doctoring OFSTED reports is a criminal offence because they are Crown copyright.


Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today