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16th May 2003 at 01:00
Wigan's director of education is retiring and he wants to save ministers from making 'silly mistakes'. Biddy Passmore reports

GOOD chief excutive officers no longer retire. They just become trouble-shooters and consultants.

Bob Clark, the much-lauded director of education of Wigan, has announced that he is retiring in November, at the tender age of 55. The advertisement for his successor in the pound;100,000-a-year post appeared in last week's TES.

But Mr Clark has no intention of abandoning the world of education, and certainly not of opting full-time for slippers and gardening.

It is just that, after 30 years in public service and nine at Wigan, he thinks it is time for a change. While he has loved working in the north-western authority, the daily drive from his home in the Wirral is long and the energy needed to do the job properly "massive". He has won glowing praise from inspectors for his "strong leadership" of the three-star authority. Now he feels somebody new is needed to decide where it should go next.

"I'd like to act as an adviser to the Government," he reveals.

A confidant of former education secretaries David Blunkett and Estelle Morris, he would like to help ministers avoid further "silly mistakes": the clumsy handling of teachers' pay, the confusing messages on exclusions and, above all, the drive towards privatisation.

"They're just shuffling people around," he says, "losing the best people to the private sector. You've got to grow the stock of good administrators and you don't do it by undermining LEAs. If you have good people in local government, you don't need Capita and Serco."

So Capita and Serco can put away any job offers for Mr Clark. On the other hand, he would not be averse to a bit more public-sector trouble-shooting ... la Liverpool. In 1999, after Liverpool LEA had failed its inspection, he was seconded there for three months and was widely credited with saving the authority from wholesale privatisation. He was awarded the CBE in 2000.

But, whether trouble-shooting or advising, Mr Clark does not want to do anything full-time anymore.

A native of Portsmouth, he taught English in Salford, Birmingham, Haringey and Hampshire, where he became deputy head of a large comprehensive. He then turned to advising and inspecting, becoming deputy director of the Wirral for four-and-a-half years before moving to Wigan in 1994. But he will not be moving back south: his wife works for local government in the Wirral and their 11-year-old son is settled in school. In his spare time, Mr Clark concentrates on sport, antique tins and reading.

"I'll be here for the next 10 years at least," he says. With frequent trips to other places in need of advice, we suspect.

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