I dressed in my most official suit, stiff white collar and freemason’s tie. I carried my briefcase out to my car, put it in the boot and reversed out of the driveway. I know I could have walked next door, but it doesn’t hurt to let the Smiths take note of the symbols of my status.
Frustratingly there was nowhere to park outside Smith’s house and after ten fruitless minutes I was forced to pull back into my driveway.
Retrieving my briefcase with a flourish I strode up Smith’s path and rang the doorbell, noting the time on my watch was precisely . Smith failed to open the door for a full 20 seconds. I made a note on my clipboard.
Smith ushered me in without a word. I wrote down “surly” in the space on my form for Parent Attitude. I looked around the hallway with keen interest and indicated a door to my right.
“This, I take it, is your environmental provision for educational activity?”
“It’s the living room. You know it is! This house is a mirror image of yours…”
I wrote down “inadequate” in the appropriate space on my form.
Smith led me into the living room where a girl of about seven years old was reading a book. She was a petite, pleasant looking child. I had expected her to be obese and was surprised to find this was not the case. I wrote “malnourished” in the appropriate space on my form.
She looked up from her book with wide, unblinking eyes.
“Hello!” I said. “Let me see if I can guess your name. I imagine it’s something like Sharon or Kylie?”
She shook her head causing her hair to tumble in cascades of curls.
Smith sighed heavily behind me. “This is Miranda, Mr Badman.”
“Miranda? Are you sure? Hello Miranda, I’m Lord Badman of Becta. Well…. I soon will be, anyway.”
Miranda gasped and her hand flew to her mouth in horror. I was slightly taken aback. “I’m an inspector!” I said grandly, to reassure her.
“The Becta Inspector,” smirked Smith. I glared at him and made a note on my form.
“I’m here to determine the unsuitability or otherwise of your home education.”
Smith made a strangled noise. His daughter continued to stare at me with huge, worried eyes. I decided she was just overawed with the importance of her visitor. Perhaps I could autograph a copy of my report for her before I left.
I turned at the sound of the door opening behind me and watched as a lad of around 12 years old came strolling in clutching a trowel. He stopped short when he saw me and glanced uncertainly at his father.
“And you must be
He grinned inexplicably. “Keef,” he said. “Keef Smiff!”
I nodded and began writing this down. The lad watched over my shoulder. “That’s three ‘f’s in Smiff,” he laughed.
Smith Senior was chuckling too. “You’ll have to forgive my son’s sense of humour, Mr Badman. His name is not Keith or Keef – it’s Robert.”
“Rob – I prefer Rob,” said the lad. To my horror he held out his hand. I looked at it distastefully. Goodness knows what sort of germs he was carrying. I harrumphed and began crossing out the entry on my clipboard. I wrote “inappropriate attitude” on my form.
Miranda sidled up to her brother and spoke in an awed whisper.
“This is the Dark Lord Bad Man!” She glanced nervously at me. “He’s from somewhere called Spectre… and he’s an insect….!”
“Cool!” said Robert and flopped onto the sofa.
I glared at Miranda and wrote “over-active imagination – possibly due to abuse” on my form.
Smith said, “Kids, Mr Badman has written a report to the government making recommendations concerning how you should be educated and monitored. Despite meeting with various home educated kids and their parents he appears to have missed all the points. I thought if he could visit you here today and talk to you about your thoughts on home education then maybe, just maybe he might glean a tiny glimmer of understanding….”
“And examine all the areas where you are completely wrong!”
“….or maybe not!” Smith concluded with a sigh.
“First of all,” I said, “Can you show me your desks?”
Miranda looked nervously from me to her father. “What sort of insect is the Dark Lord?” she asked.
“I am not an insect. I did not say I was an insect. I said I was an inspector.”
Smith smiled reassuringly at his daughter. “They’re a little higher on the evolutionary scale.” He said.
I wrote “lacks proper respect for authority” against Smith’s name on my clipboard.
“Desks?” I asked again.
Smith indicated a writing bureau in the corner of the room. “They use the bureau and the kitchen table. There is also a desk with a computer on it in the little study room.”
“Study room?” I was confused. “MY house doesn’t have a study room!”
“You had your back to it when you came in here. It used to be the space under the stairs, but I took out all the panels, strengthened the buttressing for the staircase and put in electric points. It created an ideal open plan space for a computer desk and filing unit.”
I wrote on my form; “Forces children to work in the cupboard under the stairs. May also be structurally unsafe.”
“As the head of Becta I am greatly concerned with technological provision.”
Miranda gasped again and looked worriedly at her brother. “Whose head does the Dark Lord have?” she said, fingers fluttering around her throat.
I coughed loudly for silence before continuing. “Now, do the children have access to a computer?”
“I just told you they did!” said Smith pointedly.
I held up my hand. “I’d like to hear it from the children.”
“We have access to a computer,” Robert intoned in a robotic voice.
“A real computer?” I asked. “Not something else your father has knocked up. For instance does it have a proper monitor with something like a Dell or Acer logo on it – not one that says EtchaSketch?” I laughed at my little joke, but it went over the children’s heads. I wrote “unable to recognise parody” on my form. In my opinion that can often become quite a handicap.
“It’s a proper computer,” Robert said.
“I’ve looked up Fifi,” chimed in Miranda.
I imagined Smith had been showing her the recommendations for personal examination proposed by Baroness Delyth Morgan, until he explained it’s some sort of flower fairy TV character.
I wrote down “unsupervised / unrestricted internet access condoned” on my clipboard.
…TO BE CONTINUED…