She locked the car and made her way to reception, where a young woman was clearly waiting for her arrival.
‘The head will see you straight away,’ she said, shaking hands perfunctorily. ‘He has a short slot, as I think he explained. There’s a meeting of the management committee at eleven and Sir David is coming in for that.’
Laura’s pulse quickened. Perhaps at last she might get a glimpse of the elusive David Murgatroyd, even get a quick word with him. That was a bonus she had not been expecting on this trip to see exactly how one of his burgeoning chain of academies functioned, and she knew that Ted Grant would be pleased. But first there was the head teacher to see.
Gordon Masefield was an energetic man, small and plump but full of an almost childlike enthusiasm. He bounded across his office to meet Laura, shook her hand vigorously and offered her a chair, a cup of tea, which she declined, and a glossy prospectus, all within the space of thirty seconds.
‘I’m so glad to meet you,’ he said, as Laura glanced briefly at the photograph of Sir David Murgatroyd and Masefield himself that graced the first page of the brochure. ‘I’m sure we can help convince Bradfield that a school like this can only be an asset from which their young people can benefit enormously.’ Murgatroyd, Laura noted, was not at all as she had imagined him: he was obviously a tall man, dwarfing the head teacher in the photograph, and he seemed to be enjoying a well-preserved middle age, dark-haired, firm-jawed and not unattractive. Masefield, on the other hand, confident enough in person, was gazing up at his boss in the picture with an expression which could only be described as adoring. What was it, Laura wondered, that Murgatroyd did to ensure that men like Masefield, and his own assistant Sanderson,extremely competent men themselves, ate out of his hand? Was this what people called charisma, and if so, was it entirely a good thing, she wondered?
She realised that she had not really been listening to Masefield, who was still talking fast and furiously.
‘I thought a quick tour of the academy first, and then we can deal with any questions you may still have at the end. Does that suit you, Miss Ackroyd?’
‘Yes, that will be fine,’ Laura said, and she obediently followed Masefield out of his office again. The tour was a whirlwind one, with Laura barely conscious of whom she was being introduced to, and what subjects were being taught in the rows of identical classrooms where ranks of neatly uniformed children stood up when the head opened the door in a way which recalled her own school days but which she knew was unusual in the current day and age. Here good order and industry were evidently imposed and she wondered quite how that worked in an area outside the school gates which was so obviously run-down and impoverished.
‘Can I speak to some of the students?’ Laura asked, after surveying a science class where young people in safety glasses experimented over flasks and Bunsen burners. ‘One or two of the sixth form, perhaps?’
‘That wouldn’t be possible without their parents’ permission,’ Masefield said blandly, waving her out of the lab and along yet another corridor. ‘Not that our parents are not uniquely supportive, of course, but I think press interviews would be an intrusion.’
‘It must be difficult to keep parents on board in an area like this, with all its social problems,’ Laura objected. ‘This is thelocal school for the whole estate, I take it?’
‘Well, in theory it is, but we have the advantage of having five applicants for every place,’ Masefield said. ‘We don’t select on ability, of course; we’re a comprehensive school, after all, and we take all the talents, but we do expect our parents to support the school’s ethos.’
‘Oh, a Christian ethos, of course. We make no secret of that. Sir David runs his academies on biblical precepts. Everyone knows