Blunkett backs Woodhead despite claims about affair

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT will not sack Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, despite new allegations by his former wife that he lied about an affair with one of his ex-pupils.

Ministers said yesterday that they would take no further action over claims by Cathy Woodhead that her former husband had told her his affair had begun while he was a teacher and Amanda Johnston was a pupil at Gordano School near Bristol.

Mr Woodhead has insisted that the nine-year affair began only after they had both left the school. A government source said: "There is no corroboration of the claim by Mrs Woodhead. It is his word against hers."

The source added: "We are not going to unpick divorce settlements from 20 years ago. As far as we are concerned, the matter is closed."

The reprieve for the controversial schools inspector came after the Department for Education and Employment considered a dossier submitted by Mrs Woodhead.

Although she has refused to join teachers' leaders and 12 MPs who have called for Mr Woodhead to resign, she has said she is determined to "get to the truth". She has threatened to sue her former husband and accused the Government of sweeping the row under the carpet.

Some ministers believe the education establishment is "ganging up" against Mr Woodhead because of his trenchant criticism of poor teachers. The chief inspector has enjoyed strong backing from Tony Blair, and yesterday David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who has not always seen eye to eye with Mr Woodhead, gave him his full public support.

Mr Blunkett told a Labour Party press conference that he had received no evidence about Mr Woodhead's private life that would prevent the chief inspector continuing to do his job effectively. "The issue for education in our country is raising standards and giving every child an opportunity. It's not about someone's sex life back in 1976," said Mr Blunkett. "Chris Woodhead has made, and will continue in my view to make, a very important contribution to raising those standards as chief inspector."

The secretary of state said recent evidence had shown an enormous improvement in teaching quality and standards in failing schools. "It's a testament to Ofsted [the Office for Standards in Education] working with the Government on raising standards," he said.

The chief inspector also won the support of the Opposition yesterday. Theresa May, the Conservative education spokeswoman, said Mr Woodhead had provided "rigorous inspection under strong leadership". She accused those who had never accepted the importance of a tough inspection regime of using the row over his private life to try to "emasculate Ofsted".

Mr Woodhead has previously apologised for remarks to trainee teachers earlier this year, disclosed in The Independent, that relationships between teachers and pupils could be "educative and experiential". Such relationships with pupils aged 16 or 17 would be illegal under new laws being brought in by the Government.