A School Inspector Calls

But who is the fool in the school?

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful amuse bouche of a book!Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 3 June 2022

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Chris Malone brings all of her considerable experience of school leadership and inspection to bear in her latest novella, “A School Inspector Calls”. The book deals with two very different primary schools that sit on opposite sides of the river in town. The first, St Drogo’s, is the archetypal glossy academy: new buildings, well-resourced, well-connected, high achieving, but with no room for “challenging students”. One such student, Ayiesha Medosa, has escaped from her hellish experience at St Drogo’s and found refuge in its shabby neighbour, Marsh Street Primary. She observes the unannounced OFSTED inspection of Marsh Street from her unofficial bolt hole, the little room where she does most of her school work when the noise and hard-to -understand dynamics of a busy classroom get too much for her. While there, she observes the malpractice of the inspection, pre-designed to fail a school that is too child-centred to fit the current model of excellence, through a spy hole in the wall. Does her testimony overturn the inspection outcome? I’ll leave that for you to discover.


For anyone familiar with the current landscape of English education, this book will either be a reassurance or a provocation, depending on where you sit in the array of characters the book presents. If you’re open to different points of view, then this little book will be a delightful amuse bouche. It’s brevity is part of its charm, adding to its impact, rather than detracting. Malone skilfully lays out the oppositions, using the surprise inspection as the catalyst to a drama that will be all too familiar to anyone who has undergone the ridiculous palaver of OFSTED. To her credit, she does not simply present the inspectors as pantomime villains, but explores the institutional pressures that are brought to bear on Margaret, the lead inspector, who like the teachers she is scrutinising, has a family and a mortgage to support and has to make some difficult choices between her career and doing the right thing.


The portrayal of the impossibility of the job, leading a school with limited and further shrinking budgets, staffing gaps, crumbling buildings, needy children and relentless, myopic accountability pressures, is both authentic and sympathetic. This is not a job for the faint-hearted. The miracle is that, in such a context, there are any headteachers like the saintly Jill Grimly left at all, notwithstanding her naivety and muddle. The fear is that the oily, superficial charm of corporate yes man, Dominic Major, head of St Drogo’s, (surely destined for life as a government appointee to some ghastly hybrid quango/private sector “think tank” before assuming his place in the Lords with the other authoritarian populists) will become the de rigeur model of effective school leadership and the Jill Grimlys of this world will be set for early retirement and disparagement as beached dinosaurs, left by the tides of history. What am I saying? It’s already happened.


Regardless of where you stand, this little book is definitely worth a read for anyone interested in education and those that believe that all children, the challenged and the capable, deserve the best chance in life to succeed. It’s available from the excellent Burton Mayers books.

May 2022, Book Group:

‘Your book produced some fabulous conversation and debate.

A really good evening.’

Suggested prompts:

Who is the fool in the school?

What were the main themes of the book for you?

How effective is the pathetic fallacy in the weather reflecting the action?

What do the caricatures of the two senior inspectors Ann and Gloria add to the book?

How realistic is the denouement? In the original ending, Jill Grimly simply disappeared and got on with her life away from schools, but my beta readers really wanted a more optimistic resolution for her, which I incorporated for the final version.

Is fiction an effective medium to promote political discussion?

Is the resolution for Ayiesha realistic? Would she really have left school to follow Miss Grimly?

What is the difference between pupils and children?

Does the juxtaposition of St Drogos academy and Marsh Street community primary school contribute to wider debate on inclusion in schools?

How can writers use caricature and satire effectively to draw attention to tensions in society which they want to highlight?

Compare ‘A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school’ with Gervase Phinn’s ‘The School Inspector Calls.’ What do twenty first century readers want from a book?

Reviewers are saying that the book made them laugh and cry? Did you? If so why?

Review from 29th April 2022:

A light hearted look at the most stressful time anyone involved in education will experience which leaves the reader celebrating the victory of the underdog.

Every school worker who has ever been involved in an inspection can identify with the characters – from the warm and worn Jill to the hapless Margaret and the well-meaning parents. And every school has their own Ayiesha. The looming threat of the takeover by St Drogo’s is certainly one many educators can identify with; the feeling of being the ‘poor relation’ during times of sink or swim is very real. 

The book beautifully highlights the passion and dedication of staff (and their families and the wider communities) in schools which find themselves in challenging circumstances, literally devoting every ounce of strength and resilience to the children in their care. It also highlights just how vital the constancy of school is to our children, especially those from less affluent backgrounds, and the impact of chronic underfunding. The fact that these issues are explored in a way which allow the reader to empathise, laugh, and at times, cry at the farcical goings-on demonstrates the true skill of the author’s craft and makes the story a thoroughly enjoyable emotional rollercoaster of a read.

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April 26th 2022: Linda’s Book Bag

An amateur quality audio recording (MP3 files of each chapter total c 4.5 hours) of the author reading ‘A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school’ will be available for any purchasers of the book upon request and following receipt of evidence of purchase eg a photograph of the book.

A School Inspector Calls, audio sample: Chapter 2

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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?’

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Review from Gervase Phinn:

Dear Chris

I have just finished reading A School Inspector Calls. It is a cracking read: entertaining, sharply-observed and warm-hearted. You capture the atmosphere of the school and the characters who work there so well. I have been on teams with inspectors like The Grey Witch and have been overseen by an inspector with no humour, compassion or understanding. Through your novel you capture the very essence of good education; it is book which should be read by all those involved in the teaching of children and, in particular, those who inspect schools.

Best wishes

Gervase

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John Cosgrove (author and former headteacher): ‘I urge everyone to read this brilliant book, and I defy teachers with their hearts in the right place not to enjoy it. A well written, humorous, but starkly real, everyday story of education folk in 21st century England, read it and weep for the overwhelmed heads like Jill Grimly, the staff struggling to do their best, and the children with needs like the wonderful Ayiesha in a system which doesn’t actually care.’

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‘I read it cover to cover & loved it!’

‘I think teachers will enjoy reading it with their KS2 classes for sure.’

‘Exposing the bureaucracy and unfairness in our educational system with relatable characters that you can’t help but champion.’

‘A school inspector Calls is an inspiring book with an important message for adults and children alike.’

‘to be honest, I think it has universal appeal; governors, teachers, parents and children. It’d be good for KS2 children.’

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Kathryn Solly, Early Years specialist, retired headteacher & inspector:

‘Your book is both charming & concerning. The book is well written and I like the short chapter style. The characters are well described & very recognisable to a retired headteacher & inspector. Why Ofsted has to be so often entrenched as critical rather than constructive, in fiction & reality is beyond understanding. Teaching is a collaborative process, inspection should connect and work with this.

The book provides all the wonderful messages about what great schools provide for children & families in orthodox & unorthodox ways. However, it also describes clearly the huge threat & reality that Ofsted (as the tool of the government) is to unique children. Ultimately it demonstrates the homogenisation process into MATs which will control the population. Very worrying.

Your book is a pleasure to read and I wholeheartedly recommend it.’

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“Chris Malone has managed to capture the atmosphere of joys & frustrations in school leadership, & the triumph of the human spirit.  Importantly this story shows how the dehumanising inspectorate so deeply damages its own employees – an aspect which is often overlooked by critics.  Bravo, Chris!”

Ros McMullen, retired NLE & Executive Principal; Leadership Coach & Educational Consultant; co-founder of @Headrest_UK 

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‘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)

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‘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)

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heathermaloneillustration.com and the artistic process behind the amazing cover for ‘A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school?’

rough sketches for characters
painting
more painting, and then inking:
Ayiesha for the back cover
Final cover design

‘I really identified with Jill Grimly, her values and her struggles in an unjust system’ (Sandra North, retired headteacher)

I am immensely proud to announce the #CoverReveal for ‘A School Inspector Calls, but who is the fool in the school.’ It has been an absolute pleasure to collaborate with heathermaloneillustration.com/ on the artwork. Heather has created stunning front and back covers, which really bring the characters to life.

We have all had a challenging couple of years, and this book, to be published on 27th April by www.burtonmayersbooks.com/ is short, light and ‘feel-good’ … as well as satirical. You can pre-order here, to jump the queue on publication day, when, from experience, early copies can run out! www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1838484507/

‘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 enjoyed it very much & binge-read it in one sitting!’

‘It was like my heart & my whole experience of teaching were captured in this book’


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