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Strategies of email queen

Books and writing are passions for the woman who explains key stage 3 thinking. Warwick Mansell reports

Sue Hackman fires off 100 emails a day and describes herself as a compulsive, obsessive writer who likes nothing better than to compose detailed policy papers for ministers.

"I'm the email queen," said the former English teacher who heads the key stage 3 strategy. In an interview with The TES to mark her first year in the job, Mrs Hackman, 50, admits to taking her love of writing to extremes.

She has already written more than 50 English textbooks, ranging from literary theory to the technique of expressive writing. The mother-of-two she still makes time for writing despite the demands of her high-profile job.

"It's an obsession. I just get up early on a Saturday, go into my kitchen and write," she said. Among her most recent projects was an attempt at a novel. "It was about a boy in a coma," she said. "But I didn't get beyond chapter one. My son said it was rubbish, and I didn't take it any further."

The family is not lacking in creativity - husband Wink is a light entertainment TV editor currently working on Channel Four's Graham Norton show.

And Mrs Hackman has also been involved with developing resources used in school English lessons.

She came up with the idea of "show-and-tell" boards, allowing youngsters to hold up answers to questions in lessons.

Before heading the KS3 strategy, Mrs Hackman was its deputy director. She had previously been head of KS3 English and a senior director of the primary strategy.

Her enthusiasm for her subject is infectious but Mrs Hackham also has to be tough in arguing through the strengths and weaknesses of government policies with teachers.

She displayed her determination at the National Association for the Teaching of English conference. Think about alternatives to tests rather than simply grieving each year about the injustice, she told delegates.

The KS3 strategy oversees a bewildering array of projects, from trying to raise boys' achievement to testing radical curriculum changes for lower-performing pupils.

It has had a relatively low profile, despite Tony Blair's decision to make it one of the key elements of Labour's second-term drive to raise standards in secondary schools.

But Mrs Hackman knows she will be judged by results. This year, 75 per cent of youngsters are expected to reach the expected level 5 in KS3 English and maths tests. For science, the figure is 70 per cent.

She conceded the English target - the figure last year was 69 per cent - was "very challenging", but was optimistic of success in science and maths where 68 and 71 per cent of pupils respectively are already hitting the targets.

"There is absolutely no room for complacency at any time," said Mrs Hackman. "I accept and welcome that, actually."

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