Sir Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, surprised the education world by announcing his resignation just a day after the publication of plans to reform secondary education, writes Julie Henry.
He will step down from the department's most senior position at the end of May after six years in the pound;140,000 post. The announcement comes in the week that the Government launched its Green Paper- regarded as the Labour party's manifesto for a second term.
A DFEE spokeswoman dismissed the timing as "pure coincidence" although at 54 Sir Michael is six years short of the mandatory civil service retirement age.
Graham Lane, Local Government Association chair of education, questioned the timing of Sir Michael's resignation. He suggested his departure could be linked with worries about the direction of Governmnt policy.
But Sir Michael said: "The past six years have been the most exciting of my career. It is always difficult to choose the moment to move on but organisations benefit from a change of leadership and individuals should seek out new challenges - which is what I intend to do after a break."
A docker's son, Sir Michael was educated at King Edward's grammar school and Manchester University. He spent 20 years in local government before becoming chief executive of the Benefits Agency. He then moved to the department.
Sir Michael had kidney problems that put him in hospital briefly last year but there is no suggestion that he is stepping down for health reasons.
David Normington, director-general of the schools directorate, is tipped as a possible successor. He was acting permanent secretary during Sir Michael's health scare.