WHEN he hears that a colleague has called him "one of the best examples of lifelong learning" Stephen Grix's groan of embarrassment is clearly audible over the phone.
"It's not that unusual in FE," he counters. "It's just that people don't expect bricklayers to have degrees." But the principal of Sir George Monoux sixth form college - and soon-to-be head of the Office for Standards in Education's post-16 inspections - has a CV which tells a fairly exceptional story of educational rags to riches.
Leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, he became an apprentice bricklayer, studying on day-release for his City and Guilds and then an advanced craft certificate. He was made a foreman at the age of 20 and supported through his Higher National Certificate by his company only to down tools a year later for a lecturing job. "They were a bit cheesed off about that," he admits.
He rose through the ranks and, after a spell as an inspector, returned to Barking College as deputy principal, taking on his present job in 1996. Along the way he has accumulated a BEd (Hons) and a MSC in management - all of which make him well-qualified to talk about educational standards.
"I have had a lot of experience as a consumer - I have spent 14 years as a part-time student. So when people talk to me about the student perspective I know what it's like."
Sir George Monoux, in Waltham Forest, north-east London is in area of relative deprivation and higher than average unemployment, but as become a top performing college under his leadership. Last year's inspection report said its management was "outstanding" had no significant weaknesses and accordingly gave it a grade 1.
A model of good management, you might think. But he is reluctant to take the accolades ("It's a question of team work. I've got a lot of good people here.") and is a confirmed committee man, having served on the Further Education Funding Council regional committee for London, the sixth-form colleges group in the capital and the advisory panel to the National Audit Office.
He talks about the college achieving "more clarity" and becoming "much sharper". Indeed, one of the first things he did at Sir George Monoux was to edit its rather lengthy strategic plan.
"I don't like long documents. In most colleges staff don't relate to it at all. Here everybody realises what their part is and what the organisation is trying to achieve."
His opposition to FE's often convoluted language chimes with his new boss's anti-bureaucracy stance and sounds a hopeful note for college managers suffering inspection overload.
He will take charge of OFSTED's post-compulsory education division in May with the endorsement of a colleague from his Barking days ringing in his ears.
"He did a superb job. He has got very high standards and absolute integrity and an understanding of the system and infrastructure that are needed to actually deliver the goods. He thoroughly deserves this job."