In his speech to a national education conference in London, Dr Tate appeared to be cautioning against dramatic changes in teaching approaches in advance of research into their effectiveness.
He said: "Yes, we need more whole-class teaching, yes we need more drill, but don't let's forget to cater for individual needs; and don't let's forget to encourage co-operation, enterprise, creativity and imagination as well. "
The defence of a more child-centred approach runs counter to the views of the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, who has been influential in pressing for a national curriculum in teacher training.
Later in his speech, Dr Tate put the case for pilots of more work-based courses for 14- to 16-year-olds. Such courses might be exempted from the requirements of the national curriculum for that age group, he said.
SCAA has already raised the possibility of more flexible courses with Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary.
Dr Tate told the conference: "There may well be some students who would benefit from a more work-based programme for 14 to 16-year-olds than is currently possible."
Such a programme could involve school or college courses, vocational training and work experience.
Dr Tate was speaking at the first of two conferences organised by the RSA Examinations Board. Although the conference was directed at the education of children over the age of 14, Dr Tate said that efforts should be targeted at removing the barriers to achievement during the early phases of education.
"This is where we have to get it right, so that we greatly diminish the extent of the remedial work that has to be done with underachieving students post-14, he said.
It was important he said, to evaluate the measures that have been taken before "launching into initiatives which may undermine what we are already doing".