This story begins like all other Ofsted stories: the brown envelope arrived on my desk in early September 1998. It would be our second visitation and would take place in the summer term, three years and two terms after our first. Then I got another letter. This time it was from one of my senior teachers. "I shall have to give you this," she said. "I can't face another one." It was her resignation.
In November of 1998 the local education authority undertook a self-supported review of the school. A good report followed, but it told us what we already knew. We had to make more silk purses out of sows' ears.
Christmas came and went. In early 1999 I was informed that a local LEA had won the contract for the inspection. A week or so later the team introduced themselves and told me that their registered inspector would be someone I had known as a teacher in Newcastle. They would contact me later with the date.
Preparations were well under way. Just before the Easter holidays, the team contacted me again and told me our date would be June 7 and that the RGI would be in contact with me. Everyone was quite happy. OK, we wouldn't have a half term, but that's just par for the course before Ofsted.
A friend in another nearby school had also been told that their inspection was the same week. She had been told to have all her paperwork ready before Easter. I thought it was strange as we hadn't even heard from our team.
But we had a date at least, which meant we could arrange all the other school events around it. I cancelled our provisional booking for the leavers' school camp and found an alternative. The deposit was paid and transport hired.
Staff had been researching the work to be covered in the Ofsted week and went away on their Easter holidays to put final touches to it. We all came back after the break, refreshed and ready to go. The post arrived about 9am and I noticed one of the letters was from Ofsted. "We regret to tell you that the original team can't complete your inspect-ion and another team has been instructed to take over."
It took me some time to locate someone from the original team to find out what was happening. When I did, I was told that they could not agree on working practices with their RGI and had had t withdraw from the inspection. We are still waiting for an apology from the parties concerned for the disruption they caused.
We then approached the new team to find out if they were coming on the same date. No, they only had one space available and that was to be the second to last week of term. This meant that we would have to rearrange most of the dates we had set after finding out about our first date. I couldn't ask my staff to go away on a week's field study trip and come back to face an inspection, so we would have to cancel this second camp booking.
The staff were ever so slightly annoyed, so the school, the governors and the LEA tried to persuade Ofsted to postpone the inspection until the autumn term. No, it was going to happen on the second to last week of term and that was that. We met the new RGI and were ready and raring to go.
On the Friday lunchtime - with a week and a day to go - we sent a child home. She had headaches and a sore throat. The next morning her grandmother called me at home: the girl had been admitted to hospital with suspected meningitis. We gathered all the parents into the hall on the Monday morning and explained what had happened. Most of them took their children home and more came to pick others up during the day. We were left with about 10 pupils out of 230. There were no more in on the Tuesday, so I contacted the inspection team and spoke with the RGI on the Thursday evening. He wanted to come in and do a "light touch" inspection and would I contact Ofsted and put this to them?
Early Friday I contacted Ofsted and was told that no one was trained to do light touch inspections. I then suggested that they ring the RGI. Ofsted rang back about 11am and told me that the inspection was now being cancelled for a second time but they would put us to the end of the six-year cycle. So the earliest we could expect a visit would be spring 2001.
There were mixed emotions among the staff. They had worked so hard and no one was going to come and tell them how good they were, but one of our pupils was having to come to terms with the loss of limbs as a result of her illness. That put everything into perspective.
The writer, who wants to remain anonymous, is a head in the north of England