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Softened up

SOON after taking over as school standards minister Charles Clarke was being tipped as the new hard man about the Department for Education and Employment.

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.

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