Chris Woodhead

February 12, 1999

Rock climbing and running are the favoured recreations of Chris Woodhead, chief inspector of schools and dedicated risk-taker.

Something of a rebel as a schoolboy, his bad behaviour brought him regular beatings and provoked his French teacher to sum him up as "wild".

Now 52, he has continued to cause trouble in adulthood. Only this week he had a run-in with the press, after suggesting it was acceptable for a teacher to start a relationship with a sixth former and his own relationship with an ex-pupil was exposed.

Appointed chief inspector in 1994 by a civil service committee, it was not long before he had attacked primary teachers' devotion to discovery-learning in a pamphlet produced by the right-wing think-tank, Politeia. He later asserted on Panorama that there were 15,000 teachers who should be sacked.

He has not proved any less controversial in higher education, criticising certain vocational courses, and causing an outcry after condemning most education research as "no more than an irrelevance and distraction".

He has worked in education throughout his career, taking a PGCE at Bristol University, after a first degree in English, followed by an MA at Keele. He taught English for seven years, then became a PGCE tutor at Oxford University and an adviser successively for Shropshire, Devon and Cornwall education authorities. In 1991, he became deputy chief executive and then chief executive of the National Curriculum Council, followed by chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

Described as a "political poodle" by one critic and a "loose cannon" by another while working as chief inspector under the Conservatives, his future under Labour was at one stage in doubt. But he was reappointed last year on a higher salary.

Supporters say he has exposed issues that have been hidden for too long and praise his lack of fear of controversy.

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