Slug expert polices slippery policies

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Philip Hunter has held some of the most high-profile posts in education. In the past 30 years he has been a principal private secretary to two education secretaries and is now chief schools adjudicator.

But this most serious of civil servants reveals a quirkier side when asked how he prepared for a career dealing with politicians, and teachers. "I wrote a book about slugs," he said. "I even studied snails in Khartoum before I went into the civil service. Make of all that what you will."

His other major passion is his home, a stunning property in Staffordshire from the early 1900s, designed in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement, a loosely-linked group of craftsmen, artists and architects from the 1860s. The house is such an icon of the group that students from nearby Keele university, where Dr Hunter is a visiting professor of education, are invited on tours as part of research projects.

The author of Terrestrial Slugs, (published 1970), has just signed a contract tying him to his present post until 2008. Then, aged 68, he will finally retire.

Dr Hunter spent the 1970s at the Department for Education and was PPS to two education secretaries, Shirley Williams and Mark Carlisle.

But fed up with being "so removed" from schools, he moved to the Inner London Education Authority and, five years later, Staffordshire county council. It was there, as a director of education, that he was happiest.

"I was there for 16 years. I only intended to stay for three or four but it is a wonderful county.

"In 14 of the 16 years, examination results and post-16 staying on rates improved quicker than the national average. That is my proudest achievement."

In the past two years, as chief schools adjudicator, Dr Hunter has focused, among other things, on the growing number of popular schools flouting admissions rules to recruit the best pupils.

But old habits die hard and back home in the Midlands, rogue schools are not the only foe on his mind. "Outside work I spend my time looking after my five grandchildren. But I also spend a lot of time in the garden. I have a gardener's interest in slugs now."

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