Andrew Thomson, 47, is to succeed Chris Hughes as head of the Learning and Skills Development Agency. Mr Thomson has been principal of Long Road sixth-form college in Cambridge for six years.
The college is consistently one of the country's best performers. It has achieved top inspection grades for management and quality assurance, and outstanding A-level "value-added" scores.
The LSDA's mission is to improve the quality of post-16 education and training in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In July, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said he wanted the agency and his department to work together to establish "a national strategic body to drive forward quality improvements and bring together quality-assurance activities."
Mr Thomson's track record in Cambridge, and elsewhere, made him the outstanding candidate for the new job. He was previously principal of East Norfolk sixth-form college. He has been a geography teacher, social worker, senior tutor, college development planner and vice-principal.
He was seconded for six months as acting principal of Daventry college, then in special measures, and he led its recovery. He is a member of a ministerial "critical friends" group, and chairs the Association of Colleges' 16-19 common interest group.
Geoffrey Holland, LSDA chair, said: "What impressed the panel were his outstanding leadership qualities and charisma, his passion for education and training, and his ability to relate to both senior policy makers and grass-roots practitioners from work-based learning, as well as schools, colleges and adult and community education. He inherits an organisation that is in a healthy position, financially and strategically."
Christine Braddock, LSDA board member, said the decision was unanimous.
"Andrew Thomson is highly respected in the learning and skills sector and has a well-earned reputation for quality improvement and change management."