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A humane touch at the top

David Cracknell has had enough of driving for the time being. Last Sunday, the newly-elected president of the Society of Education Officers did a nine-hour round trip to take his son back to Glasgow University, where he is studying to be a vet.

"We had to take a Californian king snake in a pillow case with us," he explained. But he is in good heart about his new role, in addition to being group director of Cheshire's education services. Mr Cracknell's main priority for his year in office is co-operation or "interdependence" with the three key agencies "at the heart of what happens in schools": the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (in its new guise); the Office for Standards in Education; and the Teacher Training Agency.

"It is time to stop divisive and fragmentary tendencies. We need to work at relationships - to get away from quick fixes and headlines. I'm arguing for a lot of not particularly high-profile, hard work with the different agencies to ensure that we can respond in a concerted way."

He is also keen to develop links with the further education world, the Basic Skills Agency and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education to expand a vision of community education.

And he is not afraid to say: "I want a new government to place an emphasis on compassion. I know that may be out of fashion, but public policy risks placing a focus on systems, on the organisation of education, without thinking about the individuals in it. I wish to see it made more humane."

Mr Cracknell's humanity has registered with his colleagues. "He comes across as an extremely nice individual who gets on well with a wide variety of people. He has a good way of conducting an even-tempered discussion. That's an important quality," said Andrew Collier, general secretary of the SEO.

David Bell, chief education officer in Newcastle, enthused about the new president's appointment. "We couldn't have asked for a better representative for education officers at this time of uncertainty. David's an ideal ambassador for the profession."

Mr Cracknell said his colleagues described him as a "corporate CEO" because he forges strong connections with other departments, particularly social services. He values being a board member of the National Children's Bureau, a director of the local training and enterprise council, and chairman of the South Cheshire drug action team.

Mr Cracknell left his native Barking to study French at Durham University in the 1960s, spending 1967-68 in France during the "exciting time" of student unrest which introduced him to politics.

But he soon realised that he wanted to teach, then make a career as an education officer rather than a headteacher. Apart from six years as deputy chief officer in East Sussex, he has spent most of his life in the Midlands and the North where he "feels very comfortable".

As hobbies, he lists walking, swimming, reading poetry (TS Eliot and RS Thomas in particular), and says he is an "inveterate collector of classical music CDs which I don't have time to listen to". Anyone listening to his presidential address could not doubt his wide-ranging erudition. The text is sprinkled with quotes or references ranging from Thomas Hobbes and Adam Smith to William Golding and Damien Hirst.

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