Adviser who must be heard

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Whitehall, not inner-London schools, is the scene of the latest recruitment crisis. Scarcely had advertisements for the standards and effectiveness unit head and chief inspector of schools hit the press than Professor David Hargreaves, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, announced his resignation. The pool of senior education figures available for these jobs is dwindling as talented managers head for fashionable private-sector pastures (page 6).

Professor Hargreaves, in particular, will be difficult to replace. Just as he was beginning to voice valid concerns - too much testing, the need to trust the profession more, the importance of a fundamental overhaul of the curriculum and exams for pupils aged between 14 and 19 - he has decided that it would be better for a younger person to pilot the cumbersome machinery of the exams quango through the next few years. Unlike many of those who operate within the orbit of what his predecessor, Nick Tate, called the Government's "media manipulation machine", he has spoken his mind. No one has dared tell David Hargreaves, as a civil servant once told Dr Tate, that he must keep his mouth shut.

The Government should resist the temptation to fill the vacant posts with compliant second-raters who will get the test papers out on time without asking the big questions which Professor Hargreaves has begun to pose. As the centre tightens its grip on everything from spelling lists for 12-year-olds to a common test for five-year-olds, the need for ceativity has never been more urgent. Ministers say they want state schools to innovate but the opportunities for heads coping with teacher shortages and supposedly "voluntary" initiatives are limited. At present, only private schools, which will next week consider ripping up the national curriculum and exam system, are challenging ministerial assumptions.

A combination of high-level professional competence and original ideas is what education policy now needs. Congratulations to Ms Morris on her decision to keep Professor Hargreaves as an adviser. Bigger congratulations will follow if she listens to his advice.

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