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Zoology professor becomes TTA chair

Veteran of the foot and mouth inquiry and Alder Hey body parts review takes the helm. Karen Thornton reports

AN enthusiast for teaching who has never worked in a classroom is to take over as chair of the Teacher Training Agency this September.

Sir Brian Follett intends to continue teaching second-year undergraduates at Oxford, where he is a professor of zoology.

"I cannot think of anything better than teaching undergraduates - it is a wonderful experience," he said.

"I have been a teacher all my life, but in universities. I have never taught in schools. That was a concern when I put my hat into the ring (for the TTA chairmanship)."

But what he may lack in school-based teaching experience, Sir Brian makes up for with a glowing academic career spanning 40 years, which includes the vice-chancellorship of Warwick university.

He also has the necessary inter-governmental experience to pull off the TTA job and cope with controversy. He chaired last year's Royal Society inquiry into the foot-and-mouth epidemic, which recommended vaccinating animals at risk of the disease. And he led a government review arising out of the body parts scandal at Alder Hey children's hospital.

Sir Brian said he went for the part-time pound;20,000-a-year TTA job because of his belief in the value of education.

"Teacher training remains one of the most important areas in education. We need to provide the highest quality of teachers for each of our pupils to be educated to the maximum of their abilities," said the 64-year-old father of two, who is also a grandfather.

Born and educated in Bournemouth, Sir Brian gained his first degree and doctorate at Bristol university in the 1960s. He went on to work at universities in the United States, in Leeds, Bangor, Bristol, Warwick and Oxford. All the UK institutions offer teacher training.

As Warwick's vice-chancellor, Sir Brian watched the TTA's "difficult start" in 1994. But he feels it has made great strides since, and paid tribute to the work of outgoing chairman Professor Sir Clive Booth, who is retiring.

Sir Clive leaves on a high note, following last week's Office for Standards in Education report which said that the sector was turning out the best newly-qualified teachers ever.

Sir Brian is reluctant to be drawn on where the agency goes next but is keen to keep good quality providers in teacher training and interested in the training of new "higher level" teaching assistants. The TTA is due to pilot courses for the latter this autumn.

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