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New search for brilliance as ideas man goes to No. 10

TONY Blair has fulfilled his pledge to put education at the heart of government - by poaching one of its key figures for No. 10.

Michael Barber, director of the Standards and Effectiveness Unit (SEU) at the Department for Education and Skills, has moved to the Cabinet Office to run the new Delivery Unit, set up to see the Government fulfils its pledge to improve public services.

Education will be part of his brief, and Mr Barber will also keep an eye on the schools White Paper, due in July. He co-authored its blueprint, the Green Paper, with Andrew Adonis, Blair's education adviser, who is also tipped for promotion.

Mr Barber's move means there are now two senior vacancies in the DFES. Shortlisting took place this week for director-general of schools, the post previously held by new permanent secretary David Normington.

The headhunting of Mr Barber is a mark of his success. The question now is whether he will be replaced from within or by another brilliant outsider.

The former professor of new innovations at the Institute of Education was widely admired for his seemingly endless ideas. The literacy and numeracy strategies and Excellence in Cities initiative were his.

But teachers have groaned under the sheer weight of initiatives.

Stephen Crowne, Barber's deputy, is acting chief of the 275-strong unit with a strong claim as successor. Other SEU members with wide experience - such as Sandy Adamson - may fancy their chances.

But the pound;70,000 to pound;110,000 job may go elsewhere when it is advertised (probably in September). An SEU hallmark has been its use of outside talent such as former head Sir Bruce Liddington - a potential candidate.

Other possibilities include ex-SEU member Ralph Tabberer at the Teacher Training Agency and David Hargreaves from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. David Reynolds, professor of education at Exeter University and numeracy strategy chief, might be keen.

But Mr Barber will be a hard act to follow. The post may be divided between a manager and a creative genius charged with sparking new ideas - perhaps Tim Brighouse would like that job.

Or the appointment could go to a true wildcard - say, Michael Fullan, dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Internationally renowned, fans include ... Michael Barber.

Meanwhile, DFES civil servants will have not only the Delivery Unit watching over them but also the new Children and Young People's Committee - eight secretaries of state chaired by Gordon Brown with the power to veto initiatives.

Nic Barnard and Karen Thornton

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