Leading article: The political motives of Mr Woodhead's foes

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IT SEEMED like a good story at the time, but we cannot help but wonder whether we should have started the whole business. In February, our education editor reported that Chris Woodhead, guardian of school standards and bugbear-in-chief of the teachers, had made some interesting comments to trainee teachers in Exeter. The "messes" involved in relationships between teachers and pupils over the age of consent, he said, could be "educative".

This was provocative but, on balance, Mr Woodhead was right. Such relationships should be discouraged, forcefully. There should be a strong presumption that any teacher doing such a thing will lose their job. But it should not be absolute. Some 18-year-olds are unusually mature, and some 21-year- olds can do unwise things without being bad teachers. A teacher should not be "automatically drummed out of the profession", as Mr Woodhead said.

Since then, his personal interest in the issue has been exhaustively laid bare.There is no evidence that his affair with a former pupil began while he was her teacher, although his ex-wife and some former colleagues are convinced that it did.

The fact that our report came while a Bill is going through Parliament to criminalise such liaisons should have drawn attention to a bad law. Instead it was used as an excuse by the teachers' unions to try to hound a political enemy out of office. The conduct of David Hart of the headteachers' union has been reprehensible. Yesterday he called for the Director of Public Prosecutions to waste taxpayers' money in investigating the charges. He should be concentrating on how to spend taxpayers' money on raising school standards. If he disagrees with Mr Woodhead on how to do that, and has a constructive alternative policy, he might deserve to be taken seriously.