Week in perspective

10th November 2000 at 00:00
THE surprise resignation of Chris Woodhead dominated the week's

education news.

The controversial figure, who has dominated the education scene since being appointed head of the Office for Standards in Education in 1994, is to leave his pound;124,000-a-year post at the end of this month to to take up a public relations role working for Margaret Thatcher's former guru Lord Bell.

He will also write a regular column for the Daily Telegraph.

While the news was greeted with joyous relief by his many critics in the teaching profession, ministers treated his decision with all the caution of a bomb-disposal team.

Shortly after his decision was made public on Thursday teatime, a cautious David Blunkett sought to defuse claims that the schools chief has lost the support of the Prime Minister. He told BBC Radio: "I think anyone who feels that their role is better to be played writing for the Telegraph or being a consultant to a PR company has obviously found a different niche in life."

For his part, and clearly relishing the prospect of his free role as a commentator in the months to come, Mr Woodhead said: "I think I have done my bit at OFSTED. I am proud of what it has achieved and, with an election coming up, this was an appropriate moment to move on."

Recognising the danger that the out-going chief inspector would use his platform in a Tory-supporting newspaper to attack Labour's record on school standards, the Education Secretary quickly moved to limit the damage by appointing Mike Tomlinson, the deputy head of OFSTED, to take over in an acting role until after the election. P> Reports in Sunday's newspapers that Mr Woodhead had been promised a peerage by Tory leader William Hague fuelled Labour suspicions that he was part of a Tory "plot" to undermine the Government's record on education.

Mr Woodhead's resignation prompted calls, led by Carol Adams, chief executive of the General Teaching Council, for a reappraisal of OFSTED's role.

In an article in today's TES (page 17), she likens the outgoing chief inspector to a "pantomime villain" whose disdain for teachers had offended "the vast middle ground" of the profession.

Meanwhile, OFSTED's work continued with the publication of the results of a two-year inquiry which found that nearly a fifth of 11-year-olds leave primary school unable to swim the 25 metres required in the national curriculum.

The inspectors reported that more than half of the 300 primary schools surveyed had cut back on swimming lessons even though teaching children to swim is compulsory.

Better news was dispensed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who announced an extra pound;200 million is to be spent on school building repairs. The new money will come from cash raised from the sale of mobile phone licences.

The windfall means that an average secondary school will receive pound;36,000 for repairs this financial year - pound;7,000 more than expected. A typical primary school will receive pound;12,000, an increase of pound;5,500.

The money had originally been earmarked for a New Deal scheme for disaffected 18 to 24-year-olds, but falling unemployment meant that fewer young people than expected had taken up the offer.


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