‘Your children,’ said the inspector, ‘are too tall.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said Mr Briggs. ‘Too… tall?’
‘That’s what I said. They are much taller than they are blonde. How do you account for that?’
Mr Briggs tried to collect his wits. What sort of response could he make to such a statement? He edged forward in his seat to peer over at the spreadsheet the inspector was reading from and then sat back and rued ever supplying the man with his hard-won measurements. It was very hard indeed to get some of the children to stand still long enough to measure them in the official manner, and now, having managed to get some sort of measurement out of them and then working hard to tabulate it, it was being fired back at him as though it was all… wrong?
The inspector pressed forward with his argument, a stubby finger wagging from a stained, monstrous cuff. ‘Your children are tall but very few of them are strongly blonde – really showing a consistent colour. How has your intervention as co-ordinator targeted this discrepancy?’
Mr Briggs fought back an urge to laugh at the man. ‘Well, perhaps some of them jumped during measurements,’ he suggested in a frustrated ironical tone. His colleague Mrs Green flashed him a warning glance – for his own sake, he knew. But his sense of the ridiculous bridled and he wanted to speak. ‘If the children were shorter, the discrepancy might disappear. Perhaps we should remove their shoes.’
The inspector sat back, all geniality. ‘No, no, no. I am not at all suggesting that we should lower their performance in height, but for several years your children – apart from last year, of course – have been above the national average in height, but below the national average in blondeness.’
‘Let me be perfectly honest,’ said Mr Briggs. ‘At a small, family school like ours we look at the children as individuals. One of my tallest girls – in my class – a girl whom I have taught and seen grow over the course of the last three years – towers over her class mates. Does it bring her happiness? No – far from it. Although there is value in great height, she is not yet of a character strong enough to live with the burden of being six inches taller than her best friend – buying uniform from secondary suppliers that are never the correct shade of red – her shoes immediately recognisable without even that strange knack for scent that children possess. On top of this, would I wish her to be blonde? Not at all. Let her enjoy standing in the background until she values herself enough to step forward. She may always dye her hair.’
‘Individual cases do not concern me, Mr Briggs. I am interested in the performance of your school overall.’
The man could not have played better into his hands.
‘Individual cases concern me exclusively, Mr Inspector. That is why I am a teacher and you are not.’
Tall Children was written Spring 2012. After a visit from OFSTED.