Exam chief to be next head of Winchester;Profile;Nicholas Tate

15th October 1999 at 01:00
WINCHESTER College doesn't care for league table placings and frequently ignores conventional exams. But this hasn't stopped it recruiting Dr Nicholas Tate, head of the Government's exams quango and the man responsible for ensuring that as many schools as possible take the same, standardised, syllabuses.

Dr Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will take over at Winchester College in September 2000 when the current head, James Sabben-Clare, retires.

Dr Tate has helped to introduce a centralised assessment system, stretching from five to 18, while at the same time cutting the number of GCSEs and A-levels available.

Meanwhile, Winchester College's outstanding academic reputation has enabled it to ignore league tables and refuse to offer mainstream GCSEs in seven subjects because it believes better qualifications are available.

Pupils take no public exams in either English literature or history before A-level - instead they follow a non-examinable integrated course including politics and philosophy until the sixth form. GCSEs in maths, English and the three sciences have also been dropped in favour of international GCSEs, which offer better syllabuses, the school argues.

Dr Tate had not been seeking another job but was approached by the school last month. He will be only the second state-educated Winchester head, earning more than pound;100,000 a year on a 10-year contract.

Viscount Younger of Leckie, Warden of Winchester College, admitted that the appointment of an administrator was unprecedented for the school. But he added:

"I am very pleased that we have secured the services of Dr Tate, who has a most distinguished academic record and a wide experience of administration and leadership in education."

The announcement of his departure comes at a time of upheaval for the troubled QCA, formed in 1997 by the merger of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications.

A new management structure has reduced the authority from eight to six divisions. Only three of the old senior management team will head the new-look departments.

A senior civil servant, Dugald Sandeman, formerly head of the schools division of the DFEE's standards and effectiveness unit, has been recruited to head the QCA's new strategy and communications division, prompting fears of a DFEE takeover of the exam quango.

There is no doubt that the authority has not so far found favour with the Government, having been dogged by embarrassing mistakes over national tests, to which ministers are particularly sensitive.

Last year's test results were published too late to be of any use to parents in choosing schools, after a previously-untried QCA contractor failed to collect the data on time.

Education Secretary David Blunkett was also unhappy at the quango's handling of accusations that this year's English test for 11-year-olds had been rigged to help ministers to meet their ambitious targets. He launched an independent inquiry which confirmed the tests' reliability.

The tests suffered their worst security breach this summer when officials at a south London council were found to be systematically briefing schools on the contents of one of the English papers. A QCA officer was found to be at the centre of the leak.

Dr Tate denied that he was "leaving" the state sector. "The work we do at the QCA is to develop qualifications taken by all schools, state and independent," he said.

Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett congratulated Dr Tate. "He is keen to forge closer links between the state and the independent education sectors," he said. "I wish him every success."


Nicholas Tate was born in Stoke-on-Trent and educated at a Huddersfield grammar school, taking his O-levels at 14 and going on to read history at Balliol College, Oxford, at 16.

He took a PGCE course at Bristol and taught for five years at De la Salle College before becoming a teacher trainer at the City of Birmingham College of Education and Moray House College in Edinburgh.

From there he was seconded to the Scottish Office to supervise the development of the history curriculum in Scotland and moved to the York-based National Curriculum Council in 1988. Since then he has held senior administrative roles in educational quangoes.

As chief executive since 1994 of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and its predecessor the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Dr Tate has been responsible for maintenance of standards in public exams, including A-levels.

During his period of office, SCAA and the Office for Standards in Education declared after an inquiry that A-level standards over 20 years had been "broadly" maintained.

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