The acceptable face of inspection?

10th November 2000 at 00:00
Despite his claim that he couldn't give a 'monkey's toss' for teachers, the acting chief is a more moderate figure, writes Warwick Mansell.

TEACHERS could be forgiven for thinking "not again". Mike Tomlinson, the man who will fill in for Chris Woodhead, is notorious for once saying: "I do not give a monkey's toss for the teachers."

But, observers say, the remark was out of character.

He does not deny making it - in the aftermath of a 1997 report by Mr Woodhead that claimed 3,000 heads were incompetent.

Pressed on whether it was possible or fair to identify incompetence in teachers, Mr Tomlinson, who is Mr Woodhead's deputy at the Office for Standards in Education, replied: "I do not give a monkey's toss for the teachers. It's the children I care about."

However, in a letter to the Guardian, which had printed the comment, Mr Tomlinson said his remark was made "rather too forcefully" and had been reported out of context.

He apologised if any teacher had taken offence. Perhaps more significantly, he then took it upon himself to write to many other organisations to say sorry.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "I cannot imagine Chris Woodhead apologising for making a remark that was deeply offensive."

Clues that Mr Tomlinson's approach might be more moderate - and, Mr Woodhead's critics suggest, more evidence-driven - than his predecessor's, also come from his background.

Mr Tomlinson, 58, is OFSTED through and through, having become deputy director of inspection at the organisation's ineption in 1992, rising to director of inspection three years later. Pre-OFSTED he was one of seven top-ranking inspectors. He was also closely involved in turning around the Ridings School, Halifax, in the mid-1990s.

Observers at two recent OFSTED conferences on the future of local education authorities were struck by his more balanced approach.

But he has not been afraid to defend the value of inspections, and OFSTED. Only last month, he was explaining to an international conference in the US how most failing schools improved after being put in special measures. He also caused a stir by saying that educationists from around the world were interested in adapting OFSTED's work.

He would not be a soft touch for teachers, said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "The criticism of Woodhead was that he always aligned himself to the Government's agenda, or to his own agenda on particular issues.

"Mike Tomlinson will be tough on teachers, but he will be tough on the Government, as well," he said.

Educated at Oakwood technical high school, Rotherham, and Bournemouth boys school, Mr Tomlinson took a chemistry degree at Durham before training as a chemistry teacher at Nottingham University. He taught chemistry in Nottingham and Leicestershire from 1965-77, and in 1977 was ICI's schoolindustry liaison officer. He was appointed to Her Majesty's Inspectorate in 1978, rising to chief inspector (secondary) in 1989. He has written three books on teaching chemistry.

He is married with a son and a daughter.

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