Surprise choice of quango leader

OXFORDSHIRE County Council chief executive John Harwood has been chosen to lead the new Learning and Skills Council.

Mr Harwood, who is also chair of the Heart of England Training and Enterprise Council, takes on the chief executive post sometime in the autumn. His salary will be more than pound;100,000 per year.

His appointment comes as a surprise to anyone expecting a familiar face from the world of further education. The choice of someone with a TEC background confirms the business orientation of the new superquango that will oversee all post-16 education and training outside schools and universities.

Mr Harwood, 53, paid tribute to the "innovative" work of TECs. He said: "They brought on board business people and linked them into the education and training system in a way which was virtually unheard of 20 years ago." But he also stressed the "huge amount of good work" done by colleges.

He could understand colleges being surprised by his appointment but asked to be judged "by what I say and what I do". P> Mr Harwood, who is married with two children, studied modern history at the University of Kent at Canterbury and has an MA in international relations from the University of London.

He rose through local government - including a four-year spell as private secretary to Inner London Education Authority leader Sir Ashley Bramall in the 1970s - before becoming chief executive of the London borough of Lewisham in 1982 and then Oxfordshire in 1989. He is Clerk of the Lieutenancy for Oxfordshire, advising the Queen's official representative in the county.

He said his priority, once in office, would be to make "a fundamental improvement in the levels of educational attainment of the population of this country".

"That a fifth of the adult population is functionally illiterate or innumerate is frankly something that we cannot sustain if we are to build a knowledge economy for the 21st century. It is a huge endeavour and one I am determined to take forward."

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