John Harwood's shock announcement follows ministerial impatience with pace of reforms. Ian Nash reports.
JOHN Harwood's surprise decision to quit as chief executive of Britain's biggest education and training quango follows a clash of management styles and some fundamental disagreements with his ministers and chairman, Bryan Sanderson.
Mr Harwood stunned many when he announced last weekend that he would retire from his job at the Learning and Skills Council this September - a year short of his four-year contract.
Senior government sources have confirmed that incompatibility and "a difference of approach and style" between Mr Harwood and his chairman had played a significant part in his decision to take early retirement.
Ministers also wanted a difference in approach at the highest level within the council as it prepared for radical reforms of the nation's skills training, to be unveiled in a White Paper in June.
The council would make no comment on the extent of the disagreements this week. A spokesperson for the council said: "Bryan and John have enjoyed a good and productive working relationship. The results speak for themselves.
The decision to retire is never an easy one, but John has taken the view that this is the right option for him."
The Government source added: "It is much more complex than just a clash of individuals.
"Ministers felt the time was right for him to go. They were getting impatient with the time to get things up and running."
Mr Harwood said that he felt it was the right time to step down.
"I have spent three years founding and establishing the LSC," he said.
"These years have been the most rewarding of my career."
Following success in winning a massive increase in resources, Mr Harwood said the LSC needed 10 years of stability. He added: "I hope, therefore, later this year to be able to hand over to someone younger who can bring these qualities."
Mr Harwood will remain in post until September.
Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, paid tribute to his work.
"John has been a key figure in building a new learning system for this country which will deliver a prosperous economy and an inclusive society," he said.
Mr Harwood had been pondering whether to step down for some time.
Mr Sanderson told FE Focus: "He had been thinking about his lifestyle and decided that this is a natural watershed. He told me of his plans six to eight weeks ago."
Mr Sanderson also paid him tribute, saying that "many people grossly underestimated the difficulties in creating the council" with its annual turnover of pound;8 billion for post-16 education and training.
He added: "John has made an outstanding contribution to the LSC, creating a strong, united organisation out of a number of disparate parts, ensuring that it is fit for purpose and for the challenges ahead."
The difference of approach between Mr Harwood and Mr Sanderson was reflected chiefly in their management styles.
One government source told FE Focus: "John fails to see that he has too top-down an approach - unlike Bryan, who takes a more decentralising view."
David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the changes at the top of the LSC should be used to improve the organisation's effectiveness.
"We have welcomed the steps he has taken to cut its costs, reduce the burden of bureaucracy placed on colleges and move towards a relationship of trust," he said. "However, there is still a great deal to do."