Tim Cornford, head of assessment at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is moving to the private sector in the next few months to take up a post with NFER-Nelson, the UK's leading supplier of test materials.
Keith Weller, head of qualifications, is due to retire in April but has struck a deal to remain until a new chief executive is appointed. The loss of two top personnel, following so closely on the retirement of chief executive David Hargreaves, could not have come at a busier time.
The QCA is at the centre of the Government's overhaul of 14 to 19 education. This year it must oversee the first A2 exams and world- class tests, the introduction of vocational A-levels and the reform of post-16 qualifications following the Curriculum 2000 review.
Following last week's 14 to 19 Green Paper, the watchdog has been asked to devise a "distinction" A-level and a matriculation diploma.
Since Professor Hargreaves left at the end of last year, chairman Sir William Stubbs has been holding the reins.
The first advertisement for a successor went out last week. The successful candidate will be paid pound;105,000 plus a 15 per cent performance pay bonus.
The search for the new chief executive was delayed because the QCA is undergoing a five-year review by the Department for Education and Skills, which is due to report in April. It was felt that any changes recommended by the review should be known before an appointment is made. Education Secretary Estelle Morris has the final say in the selection process.
Possible candidates suggested to The TES include the current deputy chief executive Beverley Evans, a senior civil servant brought in from the DFES to work with Professor Hargreaves. She was the DFES 16 to 19 student support manager when Labour abolished student grants. Department personnel mentioned include Rob Hull, who has been in charge of qualifications for the past four years, Nick Sanders, responsible for higher education, and Mark Neale, a high-flying civil servant with a background in curriculum and assessment.
QCA board members Caroline Gipps, assessment expert and deputy vice-chancellor at Kingston University, and Ray Shostak, Hertfordshire's education director, have also been mentioned.