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Training agency is safe, new boss insists

Incoming chief executive says he has nothing to fear from David Puttnam's teaching council. Nicolas Barnard reports.

A YEAR ago critics were ready to read the last rites over the Teacher Training Agency. Even today, many say it is just a matter of time before the new General Teaching Council kills it off.

But its new chief executive says he has taken the job because it gives him a crucial role in raising classroom standards.

Ralph Tabberer comes to the agency as a Government insider, having spent two-and-a-half years at the Department for Education and Employment's standards and effectiveness unit. He faces a tough challenge.

The agency's five-yearly review earlier this year stripped it to its core functions of recruitment and training of new teachers. It was criticised for an abrasive style and poor communication, and some felt its outgoing chief executive, Anthea Millett, had done too little to stand up for the teaching profession.

Meanwhile, the new teaching council is waiting in the wings. It will have an advisory role on teacher training, and some speculate that if it proves itself - particularly under its high-profile chairman, Lord Puttnam - it will take on the agency's work.

But Mr Tabberer, whose appointment was announced today, said: "It has got to be one of the biggest jobs.

"It's an opportunity to be somewhere where I can focus my efforts on the quality of teaching in every classroom."

He dismissed talk of a threat from the GTC. Instead he said he expected to work closely with it on promoting the teaching profession - he has already worked with Lord Puttnam and chief executive Carol Adams while at the standards unit. He said the council's role was advisory, while the agency existed to implement Government policy.

He will be welcomed by universities and other training providers as a more approachable face for the agency, and is expected to take a lead in cheerleading for the teaching profession. "We've got a huge job to do in recapturing the whole image and reputation of the profession," he told The TES.

Also likely to win a warm reception were hints that the burden of the current inspection regime could be eased. Mr Tabberer said he wanted to "let trainers train" and "take the tension" out of the link between inspection reports and funding.

"I'm quite prepared if people are committed to raising standards to listen to their ideas," he said. "I'm prepared to sit down and look at the whole picture."

Mr Tabberer, 45, is an easy communicator - before joining thestandards unit in its early days, he was the public face of the National Foundation for Educational Research as its assistant director. It was the foundation that costed Labour's class-sizes proposals in opposition.

At the standards unit, Mr Tabberer has been closely involved in other Labour initiatives, including spreading good practice - something he will make a priority at the agency - and running consultations on the recent teaching Green Paper.

Most recently he has been seconded to run the DFEE's National Grid for Learning division.

Married with a large family, he began his career as a humanities teacher in Hillingdon for two years before a first stint at the NFER as senior research officer and jobs as director of schools for the National Council for Educational Technology and senior adviser to West Sussex council.

His extensive experience makes him a welcome appointment, said David Blunkett, the Education Secretary.

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