“In the window” by James Eldon (@EldonPrincipal; Blog 14 2018-19)

I was out for a coffee the other weekend with a close friend who isn’t in education and he asked me how work was, I offered some platitudes and concluded with the sentence ‘but we’re now firmly in the Ofsted window’ and expected this to lead to a moment of silence and empathetic unity but it didn’t really chime and we moved onto discussing the small matter of the political break down of the UK.

How to explain what ‘being in the inspection window’ feels like to anyone not in education?

You want to sell your house and you are coming to terms with that slight panic when the estate agent calls and tells you have a viewing. You look around and begin the hectic job of cupboard shoving – jamming unironed clothes, charging leads and favourite trainers into any cupboard where there’s a space. Your visitors take a look around and you keep your fingers crossed they don’t open the airing cupboard or notice the dustball behind the sofa. But it’s all very civil and polite and even if it’s clearly not going to work out, everyone tries to remain positive and genial.

Imagine there is a change to the house buying routine. Now you will be inspected, by a team of ‘neutral’ inspectors and their visit will produce a report that will be the only guide published on your home. You want to sell your house within the next few months and they will undertake their inspection with no notice during this window. You go on a manic organisation and clean up drive and get a few of the jobs which have niggled you for years out the way. You rearrange furniture and décor, not to much effect but because you’re trying to judge what the inspectors want and what the latest fads are in their world.

And then you wait. At first, you’re on it and the house is kept immaculate. But no-one arrives. The kids’ toys start to spread around the floor. The kitchen starts to dishevel as meal times inevitably become harried as work hits the schedule. You get anxious – at its best anyone can see that it’s a great house but on the wrong day when a take away’s oils spill over and Lego invades the carpet you get a feeling that your house is required to improve.

You get a phone call. The inspectors are coming tomorrow. You have to get things ready but you’re panicking. What was the plan for the towels in the bathroom? Have you got the planning permission for the extension? The guarantee for the boiler? What about the leaky radiator in the spare room that you smack with a spanner and it stops dripping for a few days? You had a plan but you can’t remember what you’re supposed to do first and the children start crying because you’ve put their bath toys in the box with the dog’s toys and the dog’s now chewing Nemo’s dorsal fin.

Three inspectors arrive and they are going to spend all day in your house, looking into everything. And then write a report which will be available to the public, with your name on it. They arrive and you are charming… well you think this is your charming face. You offer a cup of tea but their disdain would puncture a tea bag at 30 metres. Off they go, one’s headed straight for the spare room – like he had a dodgy radiator radar, the prim one is looking through your sock drawer and the quiet one who doesn’t seem to blink has opened the cupboard in the bathroom underneath the sink which you’d forgotten about, until she pulls out the Yuletide Toilet Duck that has leaked after you confused it for liquid soap after clearing up the dog’s encounter with a Crème Egg. The inspectors are everywhere. You try and narrate the improvements you’ve made and how successful the house has been for you but you are repeatedly asked whether you have any evidence that your radiators radiate.

‘It’s only a day’ you thought earlier but only 30 minutes in and you’re exhausted and shattered that you put a gym sock in the bread bin in panic. You keep trying to explain that this is an exception and how well you’ve done in a tough area but you hear them whispering ‘radiators’ and feel faint. After an exhausting day they invite you to a meeting where you witness them talking about you and your home – you cannot rebut their glee at what they found, you just listen to your sentence. They mention the gym sock, the radiator (a thread for the inspection) and how you’ve got Nokia chargers in every cupboard but have had an iPhone for years. It has not gone to plan.

Their report is published and everyone, not just those interested in your home but your friends, neighbours, family, future colleagues can read about your house and its failings and the few positives will never erase the bread bin gym sock scandal. The report does not represent the warmth, the fun, the love that thrives in your home but it can tarnish your reputation until your next inspection and possibly mean you can’t fulfil all your hopes for the future. Imagine a team of people going through your home, unannounced and the angst and paranoia this would cause.

That is what being in the inspection window is like. Sleep tight.

James Eldon is the Principal at Manchester Academy and has been a member of the Core Group of HTRT since 2018.

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