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Hargreaves: the man behind exams vision

The maverick they call the mad professor is no stranger to controversy. Diane Spencer reports on his career in the spotlight

David Hargreaves lists his recreations in "Who's Who" simply as "the arts". He attributes this to an early encounter with a woodwork teacher who punished his lack of skill by trapping his hair in a vice. "Not surprisingly, this pushed me into the arts side of things."

Until recently he was on the education advisory council for the Royal Opera House and is still involved with NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, set up in New Labour's first term.

He has played a prominent role in creating Labour's education policy. He was appointed by the then education secretary David Blunkett, to the standards task force. He became its vice-chairman alongside former chief inspector Chris Woodhead when Birmingham chief education officer Tim Brighouse resigned in April 1999. But he has been an influential figure in education for more than 20 years.

Educated at Bolton school and Cambridge, he taught briefly at Hull grammar before becoming an academic in the early 1960s, first in Manchester, then Oxford. In 1984 he joined the Inner London Education Authority as chief inspector.

Leisha Fullick, chief executive of the London Borough of Islington, credits him with changing her life during her time at ILEA. "He is such a stimulating person to work for and he was responsible for bringing the issue of quality and standards into the debate."

He returned to academe in 1988 as professor of education at Cambridge where he courted controversy by claiming that much educational research was second-rate and "clutters up academic journals that virtually nobody reads". Described variously as a maverick and the mad professor, Hargreaves is highly-regarded as an intellectual unafraid of unpopular ideas. An expert in professional development and the future of schooling, he once advocated abolishing GCSEs, increasing flexibility in the curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds and giving teachers a sabbatical every five years.

Moreover, on his elevation to the QCA, the traditionalist Campaign for Real Education had doubts as to his suitability as senior adviser to the Government.

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