An inspector falls for Stott

12th April 1996 at 01:00
Gradgrind continues his series on the trials and tribulations of college life.

In 20 years at the college, Stott hadn't known a weekend like it. He was writing lesson plans - the first since his teacher-training days - into the small hours.

He spent ages hunting someone who knew the difference between aims and objectives. Looking for different-coloured pens to complete registers not seen for weeks. Inventing records of work. Dreaming up marks for work not set.

"Wrecked already and inspection hasn't even begun," he told anyone who would listen on the phone. "Being at college will help. Trouble shared is a trouble halved, and all that."

But he was wrong. On Monday everyone was too worried for themselves to bother about others. Outwardly, all was perfect. Staff dutifully wore name badges bearing the college logo. Everyone was at work half an hour early, in best suits and frocks, usually reserved for parents' evenings.

"Looks like a CA fire sale," said Pearce, the department wag.

Stott had never seen so many stiff grins, nor heard so much nervy laughter. Ashley Minder, his cantankerous head of department, beamed with effort. Having Bloo'd the loos (a rite reserved for special occasions), he set about a damage-limitation exercise.

"Morning!. All right?" he fired at each passing student, most of whom nodded back, knowingly. "Charm offensive," Minder whispered to Stott. "They could crucify us."

They are not the only ones, thought Stott. Weekend enquiries had brought various comments on the inspector assigned to his section. They ranged from "A right little Hitler!" to "Almost nice enough to hug." Stott felt his stomach tighten.

Later that morning, Minder appeared in the staffroom to rally the troops. "No problem, folks," he cheerily announced, entirely unaware of the suicidal mood that weeks of panicky memos from senior management induced. "You're all well prepared." As Minder looked around, Stott studied his own shoes "So just do your best. I know I can depend on you."

When he had gone, Stott picked up his register, records of work, lesson plans, overhead projector, books (yellow Post-Its showily marking relevant pages), and worksheets. Of all classes, the inspector had opted for A2 English literature, a small group of almost Trappist talkativeness.

"Please," he had implored them at last week's lesson, "when the inspector's here, say something. Talk to me, to each other. Look interested, just try. "

Usually, they stared with blank incomprehension. This time, they looked at him as though he were barmy. When he got to the class, The Silent Seven, as he called them, were all waiting. So was the inspector who introduced himself, first to Stott, then to the class, before taking a seat in the near corner of the room.

Stott coughed, took the register, chummily inquired about the weekend (no response) and gave out worksheets, inwardly praying that the class would not regard them too obviously as novelties.

He'd already seen one of them smirk a little at the unfamiliar load. His breath came in short gasps, Stott asked an easy question, designed to tease out some dialogue.

Silence. Stott felt the inspector's eyes burning two small holes in his back. He tried again. Nothing. Few signs of life even, let alone intellect, showed in the faces opposite.

Suddenly, the classroom door banged open. Stott turned to see what caused the noise and saw practical-joker Pearce, crouched in the doorway, pointing an imaginary pistol at the class. Stott then realised that the inspector could not be seen from outside the room.

"Freeze!" Pearce snarled, American-cop style. "This is an FEFC inspection!" The story spread rapidly. It told of a grovellingly apologetic intruder, students shocked into a temporary mental paralysis and an inspector who miraculously assessed the lecturer as "having shown himself to be prepared for any and every eventuality".

And how, thought Stott, as he threw the last lesson plan into the wastepaper basket.

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