Standards bearer

11th July 1997 at 01:00
ANTHEA MILLETT, 55, has been chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency for the past two-and-a-half years. She says she works more than 70 hours a week


I read geography with economics at London University and got my first job as a part-time teacher through Gabbitas-Thring at Channing School in Highgate. I enjoyed it immensely - much more than I thought I would - and decided to make teaching my career. I moved to a full-time post in an LEA school in Bournville, and two years later I got a head of department's post in Solihull. I did that for five years and then became a deputy head at a girls' comprehensive in Coventry.

I was invited to serve on the Taylor Committee on school governance, which gave me the taste for working on the national scene. In the late Seventies I successfully applied to join HMI. To begin with, it came as a surprise. I had not been used to managing my own time in the way you have to as an inspector. Also, the mentor training, which was known as "sitting by Nellie", while excellent, was a little de-skilling initially. At the time, HMI was led by Sheila Browne, who had moved it a long way forward. Under her there was more publication of reports, including big secondary and primary surveys, and the first surveys of local education authorities.

With OFSTED came new ways of doing things, work was subjected to the disciplines of the market and all schools were subject to inspections and public reporting of standards. I was asked to head up the work on the new framework for the inspection of schools and am proud of my role in that. I am also proud of my role in helping Stewart Sutherland (then chief inspector of schools) to set up the system for secondary inspections.

Having succeeded on the national stage I decided (after Chris Woodhead became chief inspector) to apply for the TTA post. I recognised this as the main opportunity to make a difference to children's learning. The remit is exciting, and the organisation is clearly focused on raising standards.

Would you do anything differently, given a second chance?

Maybe I should have moved on from the inspectorate earlier. And I think I would have liked to have my voice trained for singing but settled instead for playing the violin - not very well.

What is the most important aspect of your job?

Being an ambassador for the agency with the teaching profession and the public. Liaising with the range of institutions and organisations with which we work and, very importantly, securing ministerial support for the agency's work.

But ultimately, the challenge is to get all concerned with education to understand that teacher training lies at the heart of attempts to raise pupils' levels of achievement.

What do you Most enjoy?

I love the variety - no two days are ever the same - and the fact that we're making a difference, to teachers and pupils.

What don't you like?

Having to deal with those who think the pace of change the TTA has introduced is too fast. It isn't.

What's the most difficult thing you have to do?

Balancing priorities.

What was different from what you expected?

I had not understood the tremendous pains to be taken in running a public body. The demands of government finance and accounting procedures are substantial - sometimes they can be very intrusive of time, and a bit daunting.

Whowhat inspired youinfluenced your approach?

I've learned from a lot of people. Joy Garrett, who was my head of department in my first post in the maintained sector, taught me to be a teacher, and Murray White, an HMI staff inspector, taught me to challenge the status quo and to ask difficult questions. Also in the inspectorate, Michael Wylie taught me to think rigorously, and Sheila Browne, a doughty fighter herself, taught me to keep fighting, not to give up and not to give in. From Stewart Sutherland I learned about managing people and handling events.

What keeps you sane?

My family and close friends, who are very dismissive of me saying I'm too busy, and my colleagues at the TTA, who are supportive beyond the call of duty. I also enjoy gardening, particularly growing vegetables, and, being a geographer, I love to travel.

Who are your heroeswho do you admire?

I have tremendous admiration for cool, detached and rational people. People who can see the human condition with all its foibles but can reflect on it with humour and compassion. It's therefore more a case of people I admire and respect, including the teachers and heads I've met whose enthusiasm for teaching has never dimmed, and who are adding so much value to the life chances of their pupils.

5.30 Up and catch train to Waterloo

8.00 Breakfast meeting at Qualifications and Curriculum Agency

10.00 Arrive at office and deal with urgent items from in-tray

11.00 Meeting with several CEOs and professors of education about the framework of professional standards

12.30 Business lunch with management trainers to discuss the National Professional Qualification for Headteachers

3.00 Meeting on teacher training with South African delegation

3.45 Weekly meeting of TTA senior management group

6.00 Reception at Church House

8.45 Home to prepare TTA appraisals for next day

10.30 Finish the in-tray

12.15 Bed

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