He probably thought he was hanging tough when he told a group of Fleet Street's finest that he favoured more academic setting in primary schools and that, yes, information from the new baseline assessments could play a part.
This, it turns out, was just a bit too tough.
Sadly for Mr Clarke, the beginning of the new term had been marked down as a week for being nice to teachers. The highlight was supposed to be David Blunkett's personal thank-you notes for their efforts. Horror headlines on the front page of the Express - "Failed at Four" - were unwelcome.
Mr Clarke's response was a circular letter to all national newspapers denying everything. Far from tough he was positively effusive: "In every case I knew these assessments will be building on the foundations of good practice, " he said.
So it's no more Mr Nasty Guy.