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Would Bell branch out for peanuts?

Barely has one David beaten another to be Tory party leader than we hear rumours of another David swap at the Department for Education and Skills.

Sir David "smiling assassin" Normington, top official at the department, is off to the more prestigious role of permanent secretary at the Home Office.

And who is the department's favourite to succeed him? Why, chief inspector David Bell. Not since Terry (now Lord) Burns moved from chief economic adviser to permanent secretary at the Treasury would there have been such an unusual leap across the top branches of the government tree.

But does Mr Bell really want the job? Why switch his independent, high-profile role for one that is administratively more challenging and perhaps more influential but relatively anonymous? Mr Bell is many things but he is no eminence grise. Still only 46, he's been making a noise ever since he was the youngest primary head (then youngest chief education officer and youngest county council chief executive.) He already earns pound;155,000 and the perm sec gets only one or two thousand more. Even a knighthood is no longer a certainty.

Also said to be polishing up his application for the top DfES post is Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, and another former teacher.

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