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Chris Woodhead finds his educational niche at last

COULD British education finally have found a useful niche for former chief inspector Chris Woodhead?

Forget the flirtation with journalism, the attempted foray into PR, or even the latest unlikely bid to become a superhead.

No, step forward Mr Woodhead, your true calling is to be ... the saviour of industrial relations in our schools.

He might not be entirely happy with the prospect, having dismissed the teacher unions as "antediluvian" in a tirade against every aspect of the education establishment in his new book, Class War. He writes of the three union leaders: "Messrs MacAvoy (sic) De Gruchy (sic) and Smith . . . have no concept of professionalism, only of deprofessionalisation."

But Mr Woodhead performed the function perfectly well at the annual conference of the newly-militant Secondary Heads Association.

It seems to work like this. If you are a minister or civil servant, about to face a crowd of heads very politely baying for your blood, make a joke about You-Know-Who. The technique worked a treat for twinkle-eyed mandarin David Normington, top man at the Department for Education and Skills.

"I've never made a speech from a public platform about Chris Woodhead. But there's something about that book that unites us all," he told delegates in Bournemouth. Too true.

Mr Woodhead claimed that, collectively, the education establishment, or the "Blob", "talks twaddle".

"I'll leave it to you to decide which of us is talking twaddle this morning," trilled the super-smooth permanent secretary.

By contrast, education minister Margaret Hodge began brightly, but then faded. The title of her speech, she said, was "valuing schools, valuing high standards".

"Not quite as catchy as Class War, but ... I don't think I'm quite yet ready to write a book about how I single-handedly transformed the country's education system," she said.

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