No room for anyslack in my shop

16th April 2004 at 01:00
He berated ministers for wasting funds and welcomed job cuts at the DfES. Now he is streamlining the QCA. Sir Anthony Greener talks to Warwick Mansell

Sir Anthony Greener, who heads England's exams regulator is a businessman to his fingertips. The former drinks company boss is on a mission to introduce business virtues to education.

Last year he floated the idea of a market system that would allow any organisation to set up an exam board and he backed publishing group Pearson's controversial takeover of the Edexcel exam board.

In January, the chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, caused a stir when he launched a tirade against waste in the education system.

He told a conference that ministers were wasting public money by duplicating education bodies and strategies that were mere wish-lists.

He also said that the principles of making a success in education were similiar to those needed to run a thriving firm.

And he has tried to put his belief into practice by giving more boardroom influence to people from business, as opposed to purely educational, backgrounds.

Sir Anthony's deputy chairman is Richard Greenhalgh, chairman of Unilever, while two of the other 10 board members come from the corporate sector.

Some see the boardroom overhaul as giving the authority less of an insight into what goes on in schools. Sir Anthony, though, is unrepentant.

He says: "The QCA has been perceived to be rather narrowly focused on schools and school education, whereas in my book, we have got to have a very much wider horizon. At the end of the day, people who come out of the education system are to a large extent employed in business."

He is reticent when asked how ministers responded to his attack at a Learning and Skills Development Agency conference on duplicate organisation and ineffective strategies.

"I've got no comment at all," he tells The TES in an interview in his office at the QCA's central London headquarters.

"I've not had any serious communication at all (from ministers). They've got plenty of other things to do than read my speeches."

It seems unlikely, however, that the reaction at the Department for Education and Skills was entirely favourable.

The speech represented one of the first times Sir Anthony had captured headlines since being appointed as acting QCA chairman in succession to Sir William Stubbs in the wake of the A-level re-grading controversy in 2002.

He said he was shocked by the "the number of overlapping organisations fishing in the same pond funded in part or wholly by public money" and horrified by the flood of glossy reports crossing his desk and by the thousands of conferences taking place annually, to no discernible benefit to the learner.

Sir Anthony welcomed, therefore, the Chancellor's announcement last month that nearly 1,500 jobs are to be cut at the DfES by 2008 from the current workforce of 4,400. "It's very encouraging," he says. "You don't announce a cut of a third in your department without thinking pretty hard as to what the resultant department is going to be doing.

"This is in line with moving the DfES to a more strategic role than (it has) had previously. (The Government is) doing exactly the right thing and we should be doing everything we can to support it."

The 63-year-old has presided over major behind-the-scenes changes at the QCA, including the business appointments in the boardroom.

These changes have come while Ken Boston, the QCA chief executive, has appointed several non-educationists to high-profile managerial posts as he seeks to overhaul the running of the exams system.

To some, the appointment of two such radical re-organisers, both of them outsiders to British education, at the head of an organisation condemned last year by Dr Boston as complacent and unfocused could not be more welcome.

Sir Anthony says that, aside from ensuring A-levels, GCSEs and national tests run smoothly, much of the QCA's focus will be on improving the coherence of vocational courses.

The QCA chairman, who also chairs the University for Industry and is deputy chairman of British Telecom, chairman of the Diageo drinks company and director of luxury goods firm Louis Vuitton.

Despite that speech, Sir Anthony, knighted in 1999 and who is unpaid for the part-time post, was confirmed as chairman on a permanent basis by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, last month.

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