Curriculum tsar vows to make school more 'business friendly'

New head of top exams quango rejected teaching career for accountancy
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The Independent Online

Tired of closing British factories because of a lack of qualified workers, Andrew Hall, a former industrialist, became head of the Government's national curriculum watchdog a week ago. In his first interview since then, he says he wants to make education more business friendly and address the skills shortage of young British workers.

"I'd been involved in quite large public mergers and got fed up closing down plants in the UK and transferring work not only to China, India and Vietnam but places like France and Italy because I could get really skilled employees there," Mr Hall said.

Dr Ken Boston, his predecessor at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (formerly the QCA), resigned after the SATs test fiasco last year – when thousands of youngsters received the results of national curriculum tests for 11- and 14-year-olds late.

Dr Boston had taken on the job after the then education secretary, Estelle Morris, fired his predecessor, Sir William Stubbs, over a similar fiasco involving the marking of A-level scripts in 2002 – when hundreds of candidates' marks had to be reviewed amid allegations of faulty marking.

Not a job for the faint hearted, then. But Mr Hall, a chartered accountant who held several leading management jobs in multinational companies, does not see it that way. "I came here [to the QCDA] hoping that I could give something back to society," he says.

Mr Hall said he wanted British youngsters to be taught skills to the level that would make it unnecessary for future industrialists to make the same decisions that he had been forced to take. Changing the education system, he argues, is the key to avoiding the constant repetition of closing the kind of plants he axed during his spell in industry.

One way of delivering that would be through the Government's diplomas programme – which aims to give youngsters the mix of vocational and academic skills employers were demanding. "The diploma is a course of study that will prove valuable for a group of people," he said.

He also backed an expansion of the number of apprenticeships on offer to 16- to 19-year-olds. "It helps having someone in this organisation from my background so that we can measure the true educational experience youngsters are getting against a practical background," he said.

Education was Hall's first choice of career and he studied for a four-year Bachelor of Education degree after leaving school. But he became one of those annoying (to Government) statistics; although thousands of pounds had been spent on his training, he never took a full-time job in the classroom. "My wife trained as a teacher and thought one of us should do something different," he said.

He knows he has a major task ahead trying to restore morale at the QCDA in the wake of the SATs fiasco. "Whatever else we did a year ago, we didn't deliver," he said. "We caused pain to schools and colleges, pain to parents and pain to children.

"That responsibility was felt very keenly in this building. The question is how do we recover. I have spent a lot of time walking and talking with people to try to accomplish that."

The first signs of that recovery emerge earlier this month as the QCDA met its target for delivering this year's national curriculum test results for 11-year-olds on time. It was supposed to deliver 99.7 per cent of the results on time. Although it beat that level, it fell short of 100 per cent. One reason was that a Securicor parcel van carrying SATs scripts was hijacked by robbers who, rather than becoming rich, found themselves with bags full of maths papers.

One encouraging sign for the QCDA is that calls for marking reviews fell this summer. The numbers are still up from two years ago but Mr Hall professes himself to be "moderately relaxed" about this year's performance. "I am a firm believer in continuous improvement," he said.

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