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Tomlinson basks in the warmth of the kitchen

THE ghost of you-know-who continues to hover over everything Mike Tomlinson says and does, but the new chief inspector seems hardly to mind.

In fact, the Office for Standards in Education's non-confrontational new helmsman appears positively to be revelling in his role as St Michael, the anti-Woodhead.

So far, Mr Tomlinson has enjoyed a honeymoon period like the one his political master Tony Blair once experienced. But while the Prime Minister's honeymoon is a distant memory, there appears no sign that this love-in is nearing its end.

Fresh evidence emerged this week as the education select committee gathered to grill the new chief on his annual report.

Mr Tomlinson was quizzed by MPs, and his concerns about the teacher shortage, worryingly low writing standards among boys, worsening behaviour in secondary schools and the future role of local education authorities were to the fore.

But the atmosphere was convivial with chairman Barry Sheerman insisting on dealing with Mr Tomlinson and his lieutenants on first-name terms.

The contrast with Mr Woodhead's last appearance before the committee, the day before he resigned last October, could not have been more stark.

Then, the departed chief was taken to task by Mr Sheerman for qestioning the intelligence of Liberal Democrat Oxford West and Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris, during a fiery exchange on A-levels.

This time round, Dr Harris got some revenge. Did the new chief have any experience that degree courses were "vacuous", any opinions on Section 28, or on A-level standards?

"These are not within my remit," replied Mr Tomlinson, with what could have been a grin. The smile broadened as he straight-batted a question about whether he had plans to follow his predecessor into journalism.

Mr Tomlinson was equally unfazed as criticisms Mr Woodhead has voiced in Daily Telegraph articles on performance-related pay and bureaucracy in schools were thrown at him. He answered them all diplomatically.

He even apologised to reporters afterwards that there had not been the "fireworks" his predecessor had once provided in clashes with Mr Sheerman and a previous committee chair, Margaret Hodge.

But was he offended by the fact that Mr Woodhead's comments were constantly eing thrown at him?

"I would rather they weren't, but that's life. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." What this new incumbent is actually experiencing is more like a warm glow from the profession, and he seems to be enjoying it.

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