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Woodhead's fate in political hands;Leading Article;Opinion

Poor Tony Blair. So many cronies have bitten the dust, and now Chris Woodhead's back is against the wall. Woodhead's great skill is to make his view of education clear and comprehensible to those - like the Prime Minister - who want to feel they understand it, but dread getting caught in its murky theoretical underbrush.

The Chief Inspector is now widely seen as essential to "sorting out" education - a guarantor of national standards. Yet it is not clear that inspections in themselves have significantly improved schools. At least as important have been Conservative policies such as local financial management and national curriculum tests. And what about the literacy and numeracy strategies, the summer schools and homework clubs, the measures to reduce truancy and exclusions?

Ministers, it seems, need a high-profile front man to convince the public that something is being done, while waiting for their new policies to take effect. Hence the current agonising in Government circles.

If Woodhead lied, he would not be the first public figure to have dissembled over his sex life. The key question is: has his integrity as Chief Inspector been affected, or the authority of the Office of Standards in Education? The Department for Education is said to be scrutinising the evidence; but Woodhead's fate will be a strictly political decision.

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