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'I am not Chris Woodhead'

OFSTED has learnt how to back down in the past fortnight. Warwick Mansell reports on the dawn of an era of conciliation

ENGLAND'S new chief inspector of schools has signalled a more conciliatory era at OFSTED by recognising the "tremendous" hard work of teachers and heads.

On his first day in the hot seat, Mike Tomlinson said: "I am not Chris Woodhead, I'm my own person."

Speaking for the first time since his appointment, Mr Tomlinson told a press conference at OFSTED's central London offices that he felt "humbled" by his selection, adding that Mr Woodhead's resignation had come as a surprise to him.

He said: "I share his passion for wanting the highest possible standards in our schools. I will not shirk from speaking out when things are not as they should be.

"But I would want to give the same force for areas that are improving and where teachers and all those associated with schools are bringing about those improvements."

Highlighting improvements in teaching quality, which had seen the proportion of unsatisfactory lessons reduced from 30 to 6 per cent in the past decade, Mr Tomlinson said: "That's a tremendous testament to the hard work and dedication of our teachers."

He also hailed the progress made by school leaders "at a time of great pressure on headteachers".

Asked whether he agreed with his predecessor's claim that some degre courses were "vacuous", he said his remit did not include higher education. And on local education authorities, whose influence Mr Woodhead repeatedly hinted should be curtailed, he said it was up to ministers to decide on their future role.

Mr Tomlinson said the issue of under-achievement among some ethnic minorities needed to be addressed, alongside boys' underperformance. The Commission for Racial Equality had accused Mr Woodhead of not taking the performance of ethnic-minority pupils seriously.

Mr Tomlinson was also concerned about bullying - particularly in light of the murder of Peckham schoolboy Damilola Taylor - though he recognised that this was a difficult issue to tackle through inspections. And he acknowledged that recruitment and retention of teachers could affect standards.

His words come a week after Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to make teaching "the most attractive profession in the country".

Mr Tomlinson said that with two grandchildren in state education he had a personal interest in making the system work.

And he even admitted that, as a chemistry teacher who taught in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire in the 1960s and 1970s, his own lessons had not always been perfect.

Mr Tomlinson, the 58-year-old former director of inspection at OFSTED, has been appointed for a year by Education Secretary David Blunkett.

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