The outgoing QCA head and the Education Secretary's relationship appears stronger than ever, reports Judith Judd
PROFESSOR David Hargreaves, head of the Government's exams watchdog, will continue to advise Education Secretary Estelle Morris after he leaves his post at Christmas.
Details of his new role have not yet been finalised but he is expected to make an important contribution to her review of education for pupils aged between 14 and 19 which will take place in the New Year.
Professor Hargreaves' unexpected decision to resign from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority only a year into his three-year contract prompted speculation about a rift between himself and Ms Morris.
In recent weeks, he has suggested that pupils are "over-tested", that teachers should be trusted to carry out more assessment and that some pupils should bypass GCSE. He has also persuaded Ms Morris to adopt a more pragmatic approach to changes to next year's AS-level exams.
In his first interview since his shock announcement, Professor Hargreaves, 62, said that he got on "famously" with Ms Morris when he was vice-chairman of the Government's standards task force. "If anything that relationship has been stronger since she became Secretary of State. We haven't always agreed - it would be odd if ministers accepted every bit of advice from QCA - but there has been no big issue that I have felt was so profound that I should go."
Her regular phone calls to him are expected to continue.
One reason for his departure, friends suggest, is that he is "a free spirit" who found the constraints of working with two big bureaucracies, the authority and the education department, uncongenial.
He would say only: "I am not a natural bureaucrat. I am not someone who is easily penned in and I don't have a mind that is easily penned into conventional ideas. I like to question fundamental assumptions. It doesn't fit with the idea of a safe pair of hands which runs an institution."
He insists that the main reason for his departure is the need for changes within QCA during the next five years, at a time of substantial turnover among senior staff. "One person is needed to see it through. It can't be done in the next two years. None of this was clear to me when I arrived."
Insiders say that most of the authority's staff are sorry to see the departure of a figure who has helped to restore respect for the quango. However, others suggest that his style has ruffled feathers among some of the senior management team.
He dismisses the idea that the explanation for his decision to quit is turbulence within the authority: "My job is to move the organisation on. If I didn't ruffle feathers I would be a complete ninny." Some staff, he adds, are uncomfortable with his vision of the authority as "a powerhouse of ideas" as well as a custodian of high-level professional competence.
There is no obvious candidate for his job. Keith Weller, QCA head of qualifications, is expected to become acting chief executive if, as seems likely, the post is unfilled when Professor Hargreaves departs.