High-flyer's high standards: The Government is aiming to stretch brighter pupils as curriculum chief says majority of teachers are doing a good job

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The Independent Online
David Pascall was not surprised to find himself the target of teachers' protests last week, when he announced that the National Curriculum Council intended to reinforce grammar, spelling, and classic literature in the teaching of English.

But as the council's chairman, he is plainly disappointed that English teachers are so offended. In his view, 70 or 80 per cent of them are already doing a good job, delivering exactly what the council wants.

It is 'the 20 or 30 per cent of classrooms where the standards are not rising, where that's not happening', at which the council is directing its curriculum review.

Mr Pascall bridles at the teaching unions' allegation that the council, appointed by ministers, is no more than a right-wing poodle to the Secretary of State.

Its members include six head teachers, five education professionals and four industrialists, representing a mix of views. They agreed unanimously on last week's review proposals.

The only group he seems to want to attack outright is children's television presenters, whose diction and grammar he thinks 'appalling'.

Mr Pascall, 43, a BP industrialist, father of children aged three, five and seven, and the governor of a Church of England primary school in north London, has set himself the task of simplifying and tightening the national curriculum and is confident that high standards of speaking, listening, writing and reading are the prerequisite for improving quality.

He is BP's highest-flying young executive, taken on by the oil company during his first year at Birmingham University. With a first-class degree in chemical engineering, he became the blue- eyed boy of Bob Horton, the recently deposed company chairman, who seconded the young Pascall to Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street policy unit and then invited him to plan BP's global restructuring.

He now runs the council part- time: the desk in his BP office at Blackfriars BP office has two in- trays, one for his job as manager of exploration control and business simplification, and another for the NCC.

He is 'very grateful' that he enjoyed a traditional grammar school education at Queen Mary's in Basingstoke. But he insists that teachers should not imagine he wants to drive them back to traditional methods.

'I'm not the professional, and we are not, as a council, trying to tell teachers how best to teach. We are trying to define a framework. It's for the teaching profession to decide how they teach.'

In other words, the council's business is to advise ministers on what it believes children should learn; teacher training must then enable them to deliver.

His own schooling certainly succeeded in developing a love of literature and language. 'I feel it served me well in my professional career. Certainly, when I was sent by BP to Germany, not having learnt German at school, it was very helpful to be able to understand the structure of a language.'

He believes the tools of language are more important than ever. Partly 'for the sake of it, because education is about the sake of it, as well as the end' but also 'because it leads on to future education, and on into adult life'.

One of the most controversial proposals is that the national curriculum should emphasise the need for children to speak standard English. But as Mr Pascall well knows, the argument over how to define standard English is not confined to senior common rooms.

Yet he is willing to stick his neck out: 'It's grammatically correct English, spoken in any accent. I accept the integrity of dialects. I accept that, over time, grammar changes. But, at the same time, for the vast majority of contexts, there is a standard English and a standard grammar.

'What we're trying to get to is the standard approach, so that you can be understood clearly, so that you don't speak sloppily, you use tenses and prepositions properly, you don't say 'He done it' and you don't split infinitives.

'At the level I'm talking about, it isn't subjective. Grammar isn't a matter of opinion. There is a clearly understood range of standard English. I don't think that most people would dispute what standard English is. 'He done it' is speaking English incorrectly. That's bad grammar. We think it important that our children speak correctly.'

Mr Pascall's schooling failed to provide him with an enthusiasm for art and music - university life gave him Bob Dylan and the Beatles but nothing classical.

'I'm always reading something. At the moment I'm re- reading Solzhenitsyn's 1914 because I haven't read the expanded version, and David Lodge's Paradise News, and I'm reading the Gore Vidal series of American history novels. On holiday I read Tom Clancy.'

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