Our Christmas presents this year came in boxes marked HMIE, and our first footers wore suits and carried laptops. Inspections are a bit like dental appointments. You know they are a good idea, and afterwards you're glad they happened; but in the waiting room and in the chair, it's more difficult to take such a perspective.
The major point, of course, is that it forces you to take a long hard look at yourself and your practice - do I really need to brush after meals and how is my flossing?
The work that goes into preparing for inspection can be arduous, but is also self-revelatory in as much as it enables you to audit what you do, how you do it and why you do it.
We played host to a wide range of visitors who all gave us positive and useful feedback, confirmed much of what we already knew and pointed out areas of good practice that had maybe been taken for granted. It was, as it should be, an affirming experience.
Nevertheless, it does generate a fair bit of tension. After we in the SMT had strutted our stuff, we had to stand back as the classroom teachers took their turn. Though we visit classes regularly and are confident in the many strengths of our staff, it does feel, as football managers are prone to say, that, once the players have crossed the line, there's little you can do to influence proceedings.
As usual, though, the pupils were the stars of the show. By being their normal confident and enthusiastic selves, they proved beyond all doubt that the commitment and care of our staff is well received, effective and appreciated.
Of course, all things pass and by mid-January it was all over, bar the reporting. We staggered into school on the Saturday morning to support our senior football team in a Scottish cup tie. Metaphorically speaking, one side of our mouths was still numb and we were prone to a little drooling, but the sensation was slowly coming back.
It was left to big Thomas, our solidly effective central defender, to give the most moving feedback. Spotting me on the touchline, he broke away from the half-time talk and came over, hand outstretched: "Sir, thanks for coming."
Thomas, it's a pleasure.
Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston.