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Christopher Woodhead
Chris Woodhead.jpg
Woodhead in a BBC interview, May 1999
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills
In office
Prime Minister John Major
Tony Blair
Minister John Patten
Gillian Shephard
David Blunkett
Preceded by Stewart Sutherland
Succeeded by Sir Mike Tomlinson
Personal details
Christopher Anthony Woodhead

(1946-10-20)20 October 1946
Cockfosters, London, England
Died 23 June 2015(2015-06-23) (aged 68)
Known for Chief Inspector of Schools
Chairman of Cognita

Sir Christopher Anthony Woodhead (20 October 1946 – 23 June 2015) was a British educationalist. He was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England from 1994 to 2000, and was one of the most controversial figures in debates on the direction of English education policy. He was Chairman of Cognita, a company dedicated to fostering private education, from 2004 to 2013.

Early life

Woodhead's father was an accountant, and his mother a school secretary; he was an only child. He went to Selsdon Primary School on Addington Road in South Croydon, then Wallington County Grammar School in Surrey. Later, he graduated in English at the University of Bristol, whence he obtained a PGCE.

Early career

Woodhead briefly worked as an English teacher at Wallington County Grammar School for Boys. Subsequently, he taught at the Priory School in Shrewsbury from 1969 to 1972, moving to Newent Community School from 1972 to 1974 as assistant Head of English. He obtained a MA in English from Keele University in 1974. His final teaching position was at Gordano School in Portishead as Head of English. During this period, he was noted for his espousal of "progressive" educational ideology, which he later recanted.

In 1976, he left teaching, and subsequently moved into teacher education. He worked as a tutor on the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) teacher training course at the University of Oxford and held a number of posts in education development, including Deputy Chief Education Officer in Devon (1988–90), as well as posts in Shropshire and Cornwall (1990–1). From 1991 to 1993 he was chief executive of the National Curriculum Council, and also of the SCAA from 1993 to 1994 (the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority later replaced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) which replaced the National Curriculum Council and the School Examinations and Assessment Council from 1 October 1993.


Woodhead was appointed head of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED), the schools inspection service, in 1994.

By this time, Woodhead advocated "traditional teaching methods" and took a scornful view of "progressive educational theories" introduced into English schools from the 1960s onwards. Supporters claimed that Woodhead was a radical reformer willing to tackle the failings of the education system and only encountering the defensiveness of the educational establishment. Critics argued that he was generating poor morale, rarely identified successes in schools, and that the "progressive teaching" he attacked was a straw man, with little resemblance to actual classroom practices. Woodhead most prominently identified weaknesses in schools with poor teaching and repeatedly asserted this view. Amongst his controversial remarks he claimed there were "15,000 incompetent teachers" and "I am paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency". His blunt approach gained him many enemies, especially in the teaching profession.

When the Labour government came to power in 1997 there was much political pressure to replace Woodhead, either immediately or when his initial term expired in 1998, but instead he was retained and his appointment renewed by Education Secretary David Blunkett.


On 2 November 2000 Woodhead announced his resignation.

In February 2005, The Guardian obtained information using the Freedom of Information Act, which confirmed that in 1997 Woodhead had over-ruled a unanimous decision by his own inspectors, and a subsequent inspection visit by HMI inspectors, to declare that Islington Green School was failing and required special measures. According to the head of the school at the time, "the consequences for staff and pupils were catastrophic".

Later career

He was employed as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times newspapers. Subsequently, he stated that he felt the school-inspection system was now in a strong position and that he "felt unable to defend some aspects of government policy". In 2002 Class War: The State of British Education, a damning verdict on the systemic failures of British education, was published. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed a Professor of Education at the University of Buckingham. He continued to speak out in public on many issues relating to education at both school and university level, often provoking great controversy.

In 2004 Woodhead became chairman of Cognita, a company that owns and runs independent schools. Woodhead and Cognita were reported in the press as having expelled pupils, and were accused of "milking profits", and dismissing a whistleblower who accused the company of allowing ineligible teachers to participate in the state run Teachers' Pension Scheme.

In May 2009 his second book, A Desolation of Learning: Is this the education our children deserve?, a critical examination of the almost two decades of education policy and reforming initiative, was published.

He was on the Advisory Council of Reform.

See also

  • Right to die
  • Euthanasia
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