Jim Rose will be spending his 66th birthday at the Department for Education and Skills discussing phonics with Lord Adonis, the education minister.
"We are having lunch so I shall expect some candles on my sandwiches," he said.
Mr Rose, an acknowledged expert in primary education, is leading the review on the use of synthetic phonics in teaching reading.
His reputation is built on his work as a primary teacher, headteacher, former director of inspections at the Office for Standards in Education and now board member of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
To the educational establishment, Mr Rose CBE is a "traditionalist" but to Ben, his four-year-old grandson, he is the swashbuckling Captain Hook. "I spend a considerable amount of time playing pirates," he said. "I'm particularly adept with swords." He may need them. Since retiring from Ofsted in 1999, Mr Rose has led an investigation into the reliability of key stage 2 test results for the QCA and travelled the world as a consultant on inspection.
He earned his traditionalist reputation in 1992 when together with Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector and Robin Alexander, a Cambridge academic, he wrote a report that heralded the end of progressive education by calling for a better balance with traditional teaching methods.
The report was commissioned in the run-up to Christmas, leading Kenneth Clarke, the then education secretary, to dub its authors the "three wise men".
As well as his expertise he also has his grandfatherly interest in Ben, and Ben's six-month-old sister Daisy, to draw upon.
He said: "The issue for me is the importance that books hold. The power of stories is so obvious. Ben loves books and loves stories. The role of speaking and listening in learning to read and write needs to be considered more carefully."
He has until early next year to produce his final report on reading, but has also been ordered to prepare for another role: Ben has recently discovered Star Wars...