This chief inspector will still call

17th January 1997 at 00:00
Frances Rafferty reports as Tony Blair is first with the headlines on the politicians' favourite cheap, traditionalist proposal.

Chris Woodhead will remain as the chief inspector of schools under a Labour government.

Tony Blair said so last week in an interview on Breakfast with Frost, possibly the first time a Crown appointment has been confirmed on breakfast television by a would-be Prime Minister.

Mr Woodhead's contract ends in 1999. If Mr Blair, as Prime Minister, decided to remove him, he would expect a handsome pay-off.

The news that Mr Woodhead is to stay will not please a great many teachers and people working in the education service. He is blamed for making the inspection process a confrontational one.

He may have entered the teachers' demonology, but he is also a hero to the Right. Janet Daley, Daily Telegraph columnist and Moral Maze regular, is a fan. She welcomed Mr Blair's decision to keep the "courageous chief inspector in post". For her, Mr Woodhead is a champion who is fighting against bad teachers, progressive teaching methods, poor schools and incompetent Labour local authorities.

His tough-guy image is not at odds with New Labour's rhetoric on back to basics and weeding out poor teachers. And the official line from Labour sources is that Mr Woodhead has turned over a new leaf, taking a more collaborative approach with local authorities. Elsewhere within the party was the theory that Mr Blair has been caught on the hop by David Frost and once Labour did get in power, Mr Woodhead's days would be numbered.

But that seems unlikely. Mr Woodhead and Mr Blair have lunched together twice recently and it seems highly improbable the chief inspector's future was not a topic of conversation. Labour intends to reform the Office for Standards in Education to provide a support and advice service together with inspection. If Mr Woodhead stays he will have to take this on board. He has since said he would be pleased to work with a Labour administration. "I have always argued that the accusation that OFSTED and myself are Tory poodles is complete nonsense," he said.

Mr Woodhead has been doing a fair bit of dining recently and has invited some unlikely names to share a bottle of wine in trendy Covent Garden restaurants. Graham Lane, education chair of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, has enjoyed a plate of pasta at his expense and Roy Pryke, chair of the Standing Committee of Chief Education Officers, has also benefited from his hospitality. One recipient of the lunch offensive said: "Mr Woodhead is a much more complex character than he seems."

In an article in the Express, Mr Woodhead's emphasis seems to have shifted. At one point he actually says: "I agree with teachers. It is unfair to point the blame at the poor bloody infantryman." Instead he blames professors of education, union leaders and local authority officials for resisting the reforms aimed at raising standards.

But one insider who has followed Mr Woodhead's career closely believes Mr Blair is mistaken if he thinks he can make deals with the chief inspector, who, as head of a non-ministerial government department, is answerable only to the Queen and Parliament. He is expected to carry out the Education Secretary's requests. He has ridden roughshod over Gillian Shephard and the DFEE by dealing directly with the Downing Street policy unit and not notifying DFEE officials.

His political manoeuvres have pitted OFSTED against the School Curriculum and Assessment Council and the Teacher Training Agency. Some said his leaks, and their political spin, of a report on class sizes blunted the Education and Employment Secretary's argument in the run-up to the public sector pay round.

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