Sing for your inspection

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
It is the day of the school inspection. Unprepared staff are nervously honing their classroom technique. The head is pacing up and down. They could panic. They could try to outwit the inspectors. But instead they decide to burst into song.

Ofsted! The Musical is a song-and-dance romp through the joys of government inspection. Premiering at the Edinburgh fringe festival next month, Ofsted! (the exclamation mark follows in the proud tradition of Oliver! and Oklahoma!) charts the efforts of uninspired, uninspiring teachers to impress the inspectorate.

The musical was conceived by David Byrne, a drama student at Hull university, and is based on his own experiences as a sixth-former observing the inspectors' visit. "It's always comic to see people trying to be something they're not," he said. "So Ofsted was begging for musicalisation.

It's bridging the gap between political satire and entertainment."

Full of regularly updated political references, Ofsted! imagines the scene of the first-ever inspection given at 48 hours' notice under the new regime proposed this February.

The team of inspectors (motto: respect through fear) includes a former army officer and a religious fanatic. But the head, an old-style traditionalist, refuses to change school practice to accommodate them. Used to unrealistically polished classrooms, the inspectors are horrified. In desperation, school management starts to bus out unruly pupils, and bus in new teachers.

"At one point I thought I was going too far," said Mr Byrne. "But it turned out a school down the road was doing exactly that. Now I don't think I've gone far enough."

The only teacher to emerge unscathed is the deputy head. He and the New Labour politician accompanying inspectors are drawn together by a shared love of paperwork. In more intimate moments, she calls him "Chris", a tribute to former chief inspector Chris Woodhead.

Mr Woodhead has already contacted Mr Byrne to buy a ticket. But he may find some of the play's lines surprisingly familiar.

"A lot of his words come out of the characters' mouths," Mr Byrne said.

"I'm not sure how flattered he'll be. But we've already sold 108 tickets.

There's obviously a lot of hatred out there."

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