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Changing faces;Leading Article;Opinion

THE LAST few months of 1999 are proving to be something of a watershed in the administration of education. Never have so many big quango jobs all been up for grabs at once.

The last six months have seen the emergence of no fewer than six important vacancies: chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency; principal of the new leadership college; chief executive of the new Learning and Skills Council which will run the post-16 sector; and chairman and chief executive of the General Teaching Council.

The pool of education talent is being trawled as never before. The two GTC posts have been filled by Lord Puttnam and Carol Adams respectively; the search for a head for the leadership college has stalled; David Melville from the Further Education Funding Council is tipped as front runner for the LSC; and the headhunters are soon to be scouring the land for a successor to Nick Tate at the QCA.

And today we hear that the new head of the Teacher Training Agency is to be Ralph Tabberer. A former humanities teacher, local authority adviser, and assistant director at the National Foundation for Educational Research, he currently works in the Department for Education.

Dr Tabberer - as The TES discovered (page 3) - comes across as a relaxed, undefensive and a creative thinker rather than a Government apparatchik. He combines enthusiasm for his task of promoting the teaching profession with the more sophisticated aim of thoroughly understanding the labour market and identifying what today's young graduates want.

He is surely right that they are looking for flexible and attractive professions, and do not envisage ploughing the same furrow until they are 65. This could be used as a real selling point for teaching, which develops many different skills and can harness the idealism of young people at the beginning of their working lives. At the same time, the profession could benefit from perhaps 10 years of their freshness, energy and empathy with pupils.

The choice of Tabberer - who says he wants to listen to teacher trainers - shows the Government rejecting a confrontational style with training providers. He will have to work hard to build a sense of partnership, but he might be the man who can do it.

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