25. Ofsted Returns
There was no need for an inspector to tell us which way the wind was blowing. By June, anyone could have seen, heard and even smelt the improvement. The pupils' work had reappeared on its walls and on most days, the corridors were free of wanderers. The playground was safe at last. There were many classrooms where the pupils' behaviour was as good as anywhere on Holmesside. In these, the pupils “indicated active disapproval of disruption”. It was no longer a ‘dysfunctional community’.
As Acting Head, Miss Starr was well prepared. She had arranged a buffet lunch for the lead Inspector, Iona Salomon, and a group of Honour Roll students, while Mr Megat interviewed parents from Damian Brooks’ toxic class. Perhaps by chance, there had been a Maths exam on the morning that Ofsted returned. When Dr Salomon asked how well it had gone, Gillian Newsome grimaced. “The syllabus changed when we were halfway through Year 10, Miss. There were several questions none of us could answer. We all went to the extra lessons after school with the new Head of Maths and pupils like Errol here had private tutors, but….”
“And in what other ways has the school changed since Christmas, Errol?”
“In the old days, Eydon Vale was racist and sexist. No girl or black kid ever felt safe. Without leadership from the previous Head, the staff were lost. On my first day, someone slashed me with a razor. There was no real investigation. The other kids in the class were too frightened to tell the teachers who was responsible. The introduction of secret friends stopped all that.”
“So, there has been a big change in the ethos of the school?” suggested the HMI.
One of the Year 10s explained the difference between secret friends and all the anti-bullying strategies the previous head had tried. “So, how strict are the new sanctions?” asked Mrs Salomon.
"My crew and I got sent home,” explained Errol. “We had decided to put a stop to the racism ourselves. We got caught taking the law into their own hands just before the Easter holidays. I thought I was going to be permanently excluded. My whole future hung in the balance because good order comes before League Tables. I was exonerated, luckily.”
“The last time that Eydon Vale was inspected, none of the pupils we saw thought they were going to get decent exam results,” said the Inspector. “From what you are saying, that is still true?”
“No, Miss, Errol did not mean that. You are putting words in his mouth,” Gillian interrupted. “We’ve had extra lessons every night of the week, Saturday mornings and during the holidays. Since Christmas, the teachers have been all fired up. They don’t just drill you in exam techniques: they encourage you to think for yourself and make you feel you deserve their respect. Just because you go to a failing school, you don’t have to be a failure.”
“It must have been quite a roller-coaster ride for you?” suggested Mrs Salomon. “How do you younger pupils feel?”
Errol nodded at Noha to speak. “Miss, until I came to this school, no one had ever given me any real help with my running. Mrs Lawrence offered to be my personal trainer. She worked with me three nights a week after school. And I got sent on a training camp for Future Olympians in Wales over the Easter holidays. The Lottery Fund paid the fees, but the school got me new kit. Thanks to that, I am now the fastest miler in the UK for my age.”