Inspection Week? Swine flu? I like a challenge

1st January 2010 at 00:00

Day one. It was the all-pervading smell of disinfectant that signalled the start of Inspection Week. The place was so perfect - so free of the normal random piles of furniture and backlog of paperwork - it was unsettling.

Every member of the school walks upright, bold and proud. We are going for "outstanding" as if our lives depend on it. I do a spot-check of prep diaries just in case. Jacob's diary sports an enormous misshapen penis that stretches across Tuesday to Thursday. I hand over a new diary and suggest that if he thinks penises are that shape he had better pop along for a chat with Nurse.

During lesson one an electric tremor of tension indicates that the inspectors have entered the building. I check my lesson plans for the following day for the umpteenth time. The detail is impressive. I have the IEP, SEN, GT, MidYiss, Yellis and inside-leg measurement of every pupil. There are AOs, lesson objectives, extension worksheets, embedded ICT skills, activity switches, plenaries. I also have an eczema flare-up in the corner of my right eye. There have been 20 cases of pupils going home with fever and multiple projectile vomiters today.

At 4.30pm we are invited to share tea and cake with the inspection team. It is like a last supper for the condemned. We make polite small talk. At one point I ask "Have you come far?"

At 6.30pm Nurse sends an email informing all staff that several confirmed cases of swine flu are in school. Someone sneezes. I grab disinfectant spray and wipe down my desk, laptop and self. Illness this week is not an option. Death is probably not an excuse either.

Day two. An inspector follows me into the first lesson of the day. It's Year 9 - always a challenge, but they rise to the occasion like never before. Then the inspector asks :"Why is that boy writing using a lime green glitter pen?" Why indeed? The fact that James is writing at all is a miracle. If he had been in his own blood I would have been delighted.

Lunchtime. They eat among us. Ms B explains guiltily that she has already eaten a whole box of Matchmakers that morning. I tell her not to worry - we are all stuffing sugar to excess.

Day three passes and we're onto day four. Being in school from 7.30am until 8.30pm is taking its toll. Sugar and tension headaches have been joined by quiet, sleep-deprived weeping. At the end of the day we get some brief interim feedback that reads like a weather report. We are "good", with "outstanding" in parts and a smattering of the "inspirational". The head places another tin of chocolates on the table and we press on.

Day five. The conference room that had been out of bounds is reclaimed and the blinds opened as a signal they have left the building.

Post Inspection Week. Sickness levels are at an unparalleled high. The jumble of random items in corridors returns. James refuses to write again. My eczema has spread. Yet we carry on doing what we always do. Good. Outstanding. Inspirational. We are, as the Prime Minister said the best generation of teachers ever and no misshapen penises or lime green pens can stop us.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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