Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, is at first glance, an easy man to underestimate. Underneath the jovial exterior is steel. Sir Cyril is one of the smartest operators in the education world and a man who can fairly claim to have changed the face of England's secondary schools. Not bad for someone who began his career advertising toothpaste.
A former Conservative activist, he was behind the creation of the original 15 city technology colleges in the 1980s and the start of the specialist school movement.But rather than join his party in the wilderness after Labour's 1997 victory, Sir Cyril used the change of government to expand his empire.
He has seen off eight education secretaries, all the time pushing the specialist revolution while continuing to persuade companies to part with their money. An adviser to the Government on academies, his success is one of the stories of Labour's time in power. For once, statistics do tell the story. In 1997, there were 240 schools with specialist status. By September, 2,382 out of the 3,400 secondaries will be specialist.
So is Sir Cyril the real education secretary?