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'Maverick' takes the helm

New exam and curriculum boss wants assessment 'revolution' and rethink over future of GCSEs. Sarah Cassidy reports

A CONTROVERSIAL academic is to be the new chief executive of the Government's exam and curriculum quango.

David Hargreaves, professor of education at Cambridge University, has in the past argued that GCSEs should be abolished. He has also supported a sabbatical every five years for teachers and, famously, has accused his fellow researchers of producing "irrelevant" work.

He will head the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority from September 1 on a three-year contract. His appointment is a surprise to those who had predicted someone closer to the Department for Education and Employment would fill the post.

In his first interview since his appointment, Professor Hargreaves said he was attracted to the job because of the opportunity to help shape a "revolution" in national assessment, once David Blunkett's literacy and numeracy targets are out of the way in 2002.

He hopes to introduce "formative" assessment, which aims to help pupils learn and teachers teach by giving them constant feedback about how to improve.

Speaking exclusively to The TES, Professor Hargreaves said: "Assessment should not just record the standards which pupils have reached, as the current system does. We now need the kind of assessment which gives feedback to pupils and teachers as part of the process."

He also questioned the rationale for having GCSE exams for 16-year-olds. Hesaid: "We do need to have a coherent 14 to 19 curriculum. If we started from scratch we would not want to have that sort of terminal exam at 16 because it suggests that this is the school-leaving age."

Professor Hargreaves has been an influential figure in education for almost 20 years. He is an expert on professional development, a former chief inspector of the Inner London Education Authority and joint vice-chairman of David Blunkett's Standards Task Force.

He is seen by many as a "maverick" and once infuriated educational researchers by saying that much of their work was irrelevant to teachers and just "clutters up academic journals that virtually nobody reads". He is highly regarded as an intellectual, who will consider unpopular ideas. His current research includes work on professional development and the future of schooling.

He said the introduction of citizenship lessons, the bedding down of the national curriculum and the increased flexibility at key stage 4 would make the next few years an exciting period for the authority.

New skills are needed in the 21st century and the QCA must be at the forefront of assessing and documenting them, he said.

"If the QCA does not lead the way there will be a gap between the education system and the world of work," he added.

Former TES editor Patricia Rowan said: "He has been regarded as a maverick by some people and a lot of his ideas have been unpopular but he has always promulgated fresh ideas and thinking."

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