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Rocky ride for raising standards

As two top officials quit the project to raise secondary standards, the Government is forced to enlist a trouble-shooter, reports Geraldine Hackett

Ministers have taken emergency measures to keep their key strategy for raising secondary standards on track.

Anita Straker, national director of the numeracy strategy, has been drafted in to take temporary charge of the pilot projects testing the proposed plans - just six months before an election campaign in which Labour is expected to promise to transform secondary education.

Since September, 17 education authorities have had their schools running trials for improving English and maths lessons for 11 to 14-year-olds. But the project director's job was advertised nationally only two weeks ago.

Ms Straker will take charge until an appointment is made in February. She has taken over from Kathy August, an adviser in the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit. Ms August, who has led the project since February, will move to a new job, dealing with the creation of city academies.

The job of director for the most controversial strand of the programme, transforming teaching and learning, will also be advertised. Michael Viner, who joined the unit only six months ago, and has been planning for the strategy's next stage, has moved to a post of regional adviser. The work is being covered by Tim Blanchard, oneof the unit's advisers on action zones.

Ms Straker, who has a reputation for being an effective manager, insists her temporary appointment is not an indication of any problem with the project. "Other than what may have been a failure to communicate effectively, the project is on target. We are trying very hard to get that sense of coherence across to schools," she said. "We have also been talking to heads taking part in the pilots about how we might be able to do it better."

A spokesman for the DFEE said it regretted the loss of two talented people, but staff changes had no bearing on the overall programme.

The pilot authorities mostly approve of the secondary strategy's structure and content, but a few have grumbled about a lack of coherent overall policy and co-ordination. One director of education complained about tight deadlines and said secondary schools should not be treated the same as primaries.

Ministers want to build on success in raising primary standards in literacy and numeracy by targeting these subjects in the early years of secondary. The Government is committed to spending pound;50 million on the national programme, due to start in September, in which all schools will be expected to adopt the maths and English strategy.

The more ambitious scheme for intervention in teaching science, ICT and the "transformation of teaching and learning" will follow in 2002.

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