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OFSTED's fresh face lays Woodhead ghost to rest

DAVID Bell, who is poised to become England's next chief inspector of schools, represents the gilded youth of the educational establishment.

At 42, he will be the youngest holder of the post, a pattern he has repeated throughout his career. And judging by the comments of fellow workers and leading educational figures, he is that rare phenomenon - a universally-liked man.

Teachers and heads are hoping that he will be able to change the Office for Standards in Education for the better. In particular, Mr Bell is said to support moves towards self-assessment by schools - but that is one area where his predecessor, Mike Tomlinson, found it difficult to move the Government.

Mr Bell, who looks boyishly youthful, is said to demand results in a non-abrasive way which inspires loyalty. He is able to challenge problems without seeming to attack individuals.

He believes that headteachers need warmth and personal involvement to get the best out of their schools, and follows this creed himself. Colleagues say he makes a point of walking the workplace and personally greeting staff every morning, and never forgets when congratulations are due.

His approach to education is said to be pragmatic. His thinking is in tune with New Labour, and he is willing to support ideas such as public-private partnerships, but he is no government patsy - he will try new ways, but expects results.

As director of education at Newcastle City Council in the 1990s, he is widely credited with turning around the authority. He was praised in a 1999 OFSTED inspection report, which said: "The remarkable improvement in the LEA's performance as an organisation coincides with, and to a large extent results from, the appointment four years ago of the current director of education and libraries."

The key to this success, say heads from Newcastle, was a collaborative approach that created the feeling that the local authority and schools shared the same goals. Innovations included an annual conference involving schools, the LEA and governors, enabling many people to get involved in the LEA's planning process.

Schools believe that Mr Bell's appointment reinforces the move away from Chris Woodhead's style instigated by Mike Tomlinson. In 1999, he wrote in The TES that the English system's obsession with measuring teaching quality "can blind us to research about how pupils learn".

Mr Tomlinson flagged the problem of teacher shortages and it remains to be seen how far Mr Bell will follow his lead.

If his personal popularity can survive the challenges posed by the job of chief inspector, this could prove his greatest triumph yet.

CV David Bell

* 1959 - born March 31 in Glasgow

* 1982 - started as a primary teacher in Glasgow.

* 1985 - moving south, he became a deputy head, then head in Essex.

* 1990 - change of role saw him become assistant director of education at Newcastle City Council.

* 1995 - his appointment as director of education and libraries at Newcastle City Council made him the youngest man to reach this level.

* 2000 - became youngest chief executive of a county council when he took over in Bedfordshire.

* He is married with two daughters, aged 12 and nine.

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