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Under inspection

respected authority

respected authority

I learned that I was to face my first inspection as a headteacher by text message.

"RING THE SCHOOL RIGHT NOW. THEY'VE CALLED," said the message from Lynda, my PA. It caused hilarity for those around me as I had just started a four-day inspection skills course.

I raced back to school to take the call from the lead inspector. Unusual as it may sound, I warmed to him. He was a very experienced special school headteacher and clearly knew his stuff.

"I'll want to see your self-evaluation form (SEF) tomorrow, please," he said.

At 8am the next morning my team and I sat with him as he looked at the front page of our SEF. "You understand the implication of these numbers, don't you?" he said.

He was looking at the 3s in the boxes entitled "behaviour and safety", "leadership and management" and "overall effectiveness". We knew that behaviour was not good enough so, by definition, leadership must also require improvement and the implications for the overall judgement were obvious.

We watched a science lesson first and went back to my office for the "Does the headteacher know what he's talking about?" conversation. I told the inspector all the reasons why I thought the lesson was below par.

"Thank goodness. I thought you were going to say that was outstanding," he said.

We met at the end of the first day and I'm still convinced he called me unprofessional. I was so shocked that I did nothing at the time. But I brought it up the next morning. "I cannot let you leave without talking this through," I said.

"I didn't call you unprofessional. You and your colleagues have been model professionals," he replied.

We will never know if he said it or not but I hold no grudges. At the end of two days, our inspector agreed with us that we required improvement, but told us so with tremendous respect and humility. I found him to be a model professional himself and a thoroughly decent person.

My colleague, whose school he inspected the following week, thought the same. Soon after, we joked with another headteacher that she might be next. "Unlikely," she said. "I was at his funeral last week."

I was sad to learn that Charles Hackett had died of an aneurism. It's not fashionable to like inspectors, but he was one of the good guys.

Jarlath O'Brien is headteacher at Carwarden House School in Surrey

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