Changing of the guard: Charles freezes out faithful retainer

Ex-schools chief turned private education entrepreneur has been dropped from Prince Charles's retinue, reports Nicholas Pyke
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There has been a bad-tempered changing of the guard in the halls and vestibules of Clarence House and Highgrove. Chris Woodhead, long-regarded as the Prince of Wales's educational guru, has been frozen out of his key schools initiative along with other traditionalist advisers, in favour of liberal educationists and teachers.

According to Lisa Jardine, TV commentator, professor of renaissance studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and a new-found confidante of His Royal Highness, Charles has undergone a wholesale revolution in his views since starting his high-profile summer schools for English and history teachers in 2002. And Mr Woodhead, she says, has no place in the new order.

The Prince of Wales devised the summer schools, staged at country house hotels and stately homes, to help protect the knowledge of Britain's past and its cultural achievements. They have introduced hundreds of teachers to high-profile academics, including his friends Dr David Starkey, Professor Simon Schama and thriller writer Robert Harris, and to the delights of fine organic food and wine.

Mr Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools now heads the Cognita chain of private schools. He has denied holding any "Svengali"-type hold over the Prince and is said to be deeply irritated at the loss of influence.

He was notable by his absence last week, when the Prince staged this year's course at Dartington Hall in Totnes.

Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail columnist whose views are also respected by the Prince, was missing too, while Mike Tomlinson, another former chief inspector whose liberal views have been attacked by Mr Woodhead, was a special guest.

"The Prince's position has moved dramatically," said Ms Jardine, who now helps run the initiative. "Like all of us, he can say things off the cuff. But believe me, he has moved out of sight from the position he occupied five years ago. And I believe that the summer school has done that." His sense of overwhelming exasperation, she said, has been tempered with understanding for the problems that teachers face.

"They [right-wing advisers] are not advising him now because I would not be advising him at this school if they were. If I thought for a moment that Chris Woodhead was advising the Prince of Wales on his summer school I wouldn't ... I was given that assurance." She said that his role helping the Conservative Party had also made him unsuitable to advise the future monarch.

Another insider said: "His influence is diminishing. There are those on the Prince's staff who believe that Mr Woodhead's influence is not helpful."

The Prince has already run into trouble with his views on architecture, nanotechnology and, more recently, with the publication of a private note which some interpreted as saying that people should "know their place". He caused further controversy last week by appearing to propose a new teacher-training institute to promote his views.

But The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the proposed "training college" will amount to a series of in-service courses and seminars, part-funded by the tax-payer. It is understood that the summer school is currently in negotiations with leading British universities to site a permanent office.

Mr Woodhead made no comment on Professor Jardine's claims, but said he thought the 2004 summer school, which he attended, was "quite good".

Comments