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Miner's daughter majors in success

Ealing's director has worked miracles, say inspectors. Biddy Passmore reports

Caroline Whalley is pretty pleased with her first inspectors' report as director of education in the London borough of Ealing.

She "has a clear vision for the future and provides purposeful, energetic and determined leadership," it says. Overall, the education authority has moved from "unsatisfactory" to "highly satisfactory" since the last inspection two years ago. It would be unseemly to crow but Dr Whalley would quite like to show the report to the Ealing adviser who told her, 20 years ago, that she would never progress beyond classroom teaching because she did not have a degree.

That remark galvanised her into acquiring qualifications galore. Starting with a diploma in guidance and counselling, she went on to a BA in science and curriculum design, advanced diploma in applied management studies and MA in educational management and business administration, the last three from the Open University. In 2000, she became Doctor of Education in performance management from Brunel University.

That is to say nothing of a diploma in applied clinical hypnosis (useful, she says, for motivation and team-building rather than for party tricks).

Not bad for a coal-miner's daughter from Chesterfield who struggled to gain six O-levels, passing English language only at the third attempt. Her mother died when she was eight; her father when she was 16. A frequent truant, she left her grammar school when her father died and was only coaxed back by a determined head.

By the time she took - and failed - her A-levels, she was in foster care.

She fled south to London, where she met and moved in with her future husband Bill ("my sanity", she says) and became a filing clerk. On the suggestion of a colleague, she took a Certificate in Education.

But teaching practice put her off. "In 1974, women couldn't wear trousers and trainee teachers had to sit outside the staffroom," she said. "It was so uninviting." She took a sales job at the BBC instead, then helped her husband with his design business when their two sons were born.

Caroline Whalley was eventually tempted back into the classroom by a job teaching science in a boys' secondary school in Ealing. She became an advisory teacher eventually moving west to the neighbouring borough of Hillingdon, where she became chief inspector.

Ealing called her back in 1999, to become director of schools. Alan Parker, the borough's director of education since 1997, suddenly resigned last spring, believed to have lost out in a power struggle in the newly corporate authority. Dr Whalley became interim director and was confirmed in the post last December.

She is delighted with the inspectors' comments on the increasing confidence Ealing schools have in their LEA.

To confirm this, Colin Horsley, the acting joint head of Greenford high school, says: "There's now a high level of trust and transparency within the authority and a feeling of great collaboration between schools."

That degree in hypnosis must be coming in useful.

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