Chris Woodhead

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir Chris Woodhead
Born Christopher Anthony Woodhead
20 October 1946 (1946-10-20) (age 68)
Cockfosters, London, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Known for Chief Inspector of Schools

Sir Christopher Anthony Woodhead (born 20 October 1946, Cockfosters, London) is a British educationalist. He was Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England from 1994 until 2000 and is one of the most controversial figures in debates on the direction of English education policy.[1] He is currently the Chairman of Cognita, a company dedicated to fostering private education.[2]

Early life[edit]

Woodhead's father was an accountant, and his mother a school secretary, and he had no brothers or sisters. He went to Selsdon Primary School[3] on Addington Road in South Croydon, then Wallington County Grammar School in Surrey, where he was caned twice. Later, he graduated in English[4] at the University of Bristol, whence he also obtained a PGCE.

Early career[edit]

Woodhead briefly worked as an English teacher at Wallington County Grammar School for Boys. Subsequently, he taught at the Priory School in Shrewsbury from 1969–72, moving to Newent Community School from 1972–4 as assistant Head of English, and finally at Gordano School in Portishead as Head of English. During this period, he was noted for his espousal of 'progressive' educational ideology, something he later recanted.[5] In 1976, he left teaching, allegedly as the result of an affair with a sixth-form pupil, something he has always denied.[6] He subsequently moved into teacher education. He has an MA from the University of Keele.

He became a lecturer at the University of Oxford and held a number of posts in education development, including Deputy Chief Education Officer in Devon (from 1988–90), as well as posts in Shropshire and Cornwall (from 1990–1). From 1991–3 he was chief executive of the National Curriculum Council, and also of the SCAA from 1993–4 (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.

Woodhead is particularly associated with support for "traditional teaching methods" and for taking 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. In 1999 Woodhead came under immense pressure to resign when it was claimed by his ex-wife Cathy Woodhead (they divorced in 1977) that whilst working as a teacher he had had an affair with a pupil, Amanda Johnston.[7][8] His version of events is also hotly disputed by some former colleagues.[citation needed] However Woodhead stood firm with the support of Blunkett. Woodhead and Johnston insisted that although they had met while he was her teacher, the relationship (which lasted for nine years) had only developed several years later in Oxford after they had both left the Gordano School, near Bristol. He was Head of English at the school from 1974–6. In February 1999 Woodhead addressed an audience of trainee teachers and was asked for his views on legislation to ban sexual relationships between pupils and teachers. His response was that such relationships, while regrettable, could be "experiential and educative on both sides",[9] a remark for which he later apologised.


On 2 November 2000 Woodhead announced his resignation.

In February 2005, The Guardian obtained information[10] 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.[11] According to the head of the school at the time, "the consequences for staff and pupils were catastrophic".

Later career[edit]

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."[12] 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.[2] He continues 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 chairmain of Cognita, a company that owns and runs independent schools.[13] In May 2009 his second book, A Desolation of Learning: Is this the education our children deserve?,[14] a critical examination of the almost two decades of education policy and reforming initiative, was published. Throughout the years Woodhead has consistently objected to David Blunkett and his cabinet for the way in which English schools have now been governed.

He is on the Advisory Council of Reform.[15]


Woodhead and Cognita made it into the newspapers for expelling 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.[16]

Personal life[edit]

He met his wife, Cathy, at Bristol and they married in 1969 and had a daughter in 1975 whilst living in Bristol. They divorced in September 1976. He now lives in Herefordshire with his second wife, and now has two granddaughters. Woodhead was knighted in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to education.[17]

Woodhead enjoyed running and rock climbing until he was diagnosed with the fatal neurodegenerative condition motor neurone disease in 2006. In an interview with The Sunday Times published on 3 May 2009,[18] he stated publicly that he would prefer to end his own life than suffer the indignities of the final stages of the disease; in an interview he stated, "The truth is that I would be more likely to drive myself in a wheel-chair off a cliff in Cornwall than go to Dignitas and speak to a bearded social worker about my future."[19]

Woodhead is a patron of Dignity in Dying and campaigns for an assisted dying law; "The problem with MND is that it just gets worse, which means everything becomes a matter of timing. If I knew that the choice of an assisted death at home was a reality it would bring me great comfort and happiness."[20]

Preceded by
Stewart Sutherland
Chief Inspector at Ofsted
Succeeded by
Sir Mike Tomlinson


  1. ^ The Times 3 February 1997 Valerie Grove interview
  2. ^ a b "Executive Team". Cognita. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  3. ^ Home
  4. ^ Bristol University | Department of English
  5. ^ Pearson, Alison (3 March 2001). "Meet the real Chris Woodhead". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 
  6. ^ Bright, Martin (2 May 1999). "Woodhead feels the heat". The Observer. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Pupil sex row deepens". BBC News. 6 February 1999. 
  10. ^ Barry Jones (27 November 1997). "Islington Green High School" (PDF). Her Majesty's Inspector (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 11 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Smithers, Rebecca (4 February 2005). "Woodhead overrode inspectors to fail improving school". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 11 June 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Daniel Boffey (10 April 2011). "Free schools: private firm Cognita 'milked profits'". The Observer (London). Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  14. ^ Pencil-Sharp Publishing
  15. ^ Reform, Advisory Council, accessed 15 May 2011
  16. ^ Expulsion row hits ex-Ofsted chief Sir Chris Woodhead's schools empire, The Guardian, 28 October 2012.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59808. p. 1. 11 June 2011.
  18. ^ Griffiths, Sian (3 May 2009). "Blairs Mr Education Chris Woodhead considers suicide". The Times (London). 
  19. ^ Paton, Graeme (3 May 2009). "Chris Woodhead 'considering suicide' after motor neurone disease diagnosis". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  20. ^ Christopher Woodhead

External links[edit]

Video clips[edit]