Many moons ago, before I decided life was too short to keep working, one of my educational roles was as a school’s OfSTED inspector. As a result it’s an absolute delight to welcome back Chris Malone to Linda’s Book Bag today because I have a feeling that her latest book will be right up my street!
Discussing A School Inspector Calls with Chris Malone
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Chris. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me again.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
Hi Linda, it is such a pleasure to spend some time with you again, on the eve of publication day for my satirical novella about school inspection. This time I have brought with me A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school?
What can we expect from an evening in with A School Inspector Calls?
We can expect wry enjoyment. It is a cracking tale, with a touch of naivety and a good dose of parody, as the cover implies. In fact, the amazing front and back cover designs were created by my eldest daughter, heathermaloneillustration.com/. I think any readers of the book will agree, Heather really captures the spirit of the characters, including Ayiesha on the back.
Wow. What a talented family you are. You must be so proud of Heather.
Tell me a little more about Ayiesha.
Ayiesha is the star of the show, a selective mute who learns to speak out about injustice. The plot hinges on her silent participation in the drama at Marsh Street, and her courage to confront the inspectors head-on.
And the weather plays its part throughout the book: ‘The children’s footwear is wet and muddy simply from walking along the pavements, and the floor of the school hall is now smeared with a combination of four-hundred shoes and two-hundred bottoms.’ As the floods rise, the action steps up, resulting in a possibly unexpected denouement.
A School Inspector Calls sounds very different to your thrillers. Why the change?
My move into this new genre is a result of a burning feeling inside me that such a book needed to be written. I am grappling with a hiatus in thriller-writing, and certainly in dystopia, while raw and serious real-life scenarios plague mankind. I definitely need more laughter in my life, and am told that others do too, so here is a sneak peek:
‘Gloria is speaking loudly on her phone, letting all present know that she is talking to the Chief of the Inspectorate himself. She preens, and Jill Grimly pounces.
‘Excuse me Mrs Dart, but we have a zero tolerance on mobile phones in this school, including visitors. You must either give me your phone to place in the security of the school office, or you must leave the premises to take your call.’ She looks out at the teeming rain and adds, ‘Perhaps in your car?’
Gloria is utterly indignant. She stands agape, unused to such treatment. Her mouth forms an odd circle but she seems unable to utter a sound. She is rescued by Ann, who takes the phone, in its jewelled case …
Jill has certainly proved that she can challenge the esteemed senior inspector, but Margaret questions the wisdom of antagonising an extremely influential figure on this day, and at this point in Jill’s educational career.
‘You do realise who she is?’ Margaret asks weakly.’
That’s brilliant Chris. I think you’re right. We all need a bit of a lift from all the real world misery at the moment and A School Inspector Calls sounds just the thing! Is there a serious aspect too?
There is, of course, a serious side to the book. I have taught classes during inspections, I have led inspections, lived and breathed the role of headteacher, and I do not hide my views of an inspection system which can torment passionate, hardworking professionals. The inspection system in the book (NB the only mention of Ofsted is in my biography), is outdated, corrupt and overly bureaucratic. It needs to change so that communities like Marsh Street can thrive without the threat of a school takeover, and so ‘inspirational’ ‘misfits’ like Ayiesha, are no longer ‘beaten by the system.’
I’m with you there Chris.
In my view, there is a fine line between schools as community centres and schools as havens of focused learning. I am certainly not a fan of hot houses for the latest educational fad dreamt up by an out of touch government, and I hope to bring these tensions to life. I also touch on academisation as a concept, as readers will discover.
Drawing in colleagues and friends from the world of education, I shaped the final text. In fact, I actually changed the name of one character, and adjusted the ending as a result of their comments. One thing was clear, they all thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, several binge-reading in one sitting! It is deliberately short, with busy people in mind.
I’m going to have to squeeze it in to my TBR Chris. What did those readers have to say about A School Inspector Calls?
‘I found this novel gripping. I was invested in the narrative, and in the characters. The pace was a strength, moving the reader through the days of floods and inspection.’ (Sandra North, retired headteacher)
‘I found myself relating to the story and descriptions of the school in the context of my own experiences in teaching and advisory work, which really endeared me to your writing.’ (Liz van Santen)
What brilliant responses. You must be thrilled. So, what else have you brought along and why?
In keeping with the staff room in Marsh Street Primary School, I have brought pink wafer biscuits for us to enjoy with our cups of tea, in a nostalgic mood for the grab-and-go life of school break times. Finding gluten and lactose free was a challenge.
‘The inspector steps across the room, crunching on a scree of fallen pink wafer biscuits and says quietly, ‘I just reminded them of the teaching criteria …’’
I bet! I love a wafer biscuit and a cuppa! But what’s that you’re holding?
In addition to my book, I have also brought two treasured items: firstly, the original artwork for the cover, now framed on the chimney breast by my desk, and secondly a beautiful wooden Wentworth jigsaw puzzle of the cover, which has featured on Twitter and Facebook in recent weeks.
It was a present from my husband Ken and has already given me much pleasure (I have been a jigsaw puzzle addict for many years, using the process to destress and sort my thoughts into some sort of order).
That’s just wonderful. What gorgeous keepsakes for your book. Thanks so much for chatting with me about A School Inspector Calls Chris. I wish you every success for publication day tomorrow. Now, you pass me a wafer and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details:
A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school?
Two primary schools face each other across the river; one outstanding, the other inclusive.
At precisely 8am, Margaret Jones’ hire car draws up outside Marsh Street Primary. The beleaguered inspector is being quality assured by two senior colleagues who defend the outdated inspectorate with vigour.
Jill Grimly, the dedicated acting headteacher, teeters precariously between failure and success, assisted by one of her devoted pupils, Ayiesha, a girl with special needs.
The inspection slides into a fiasco; who is the blackmailer, and who is the fool in the school?
Chris Malone tackles school inspection, academisation and exclusion of special needs pupils, head on, through her entertaining yet unforgiving parody. As an ex-headteacher, ex-inspector and parent, she writes from the heart. As well as humour, she portrays an underlying regret that schools like Marsh Street and St Drogo’s still exist.
Interested to see a glimpse of the uncomfortable reality of this school inspection? Then read on …
About Chris Malone
During a thirty-year career in education, Chris saw numerous school and early years inspections through the eyes of the local authority, the inspectorate, a class teacher and parent. She was also a primary headteacher for four years, somehow escaping the call.
Chris worked as a freelance early years inspector, and spent eight months as an Ofsted HMI, responsible for leading school inspections, including placing a primary school in special measures.
Since retiring from the role of Head of Education in Warwickshire, Chris has written three novels: Zade, and two political thrillers published by Burton Mayers Books, #stoptheglitch and #isolate. A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school? is her fourth book.
Chris lives with her husband in Herefordshire, and has three grown-up children. This time, the cover design is by her daughter Heather: heathermaloneillustration.com