Schools chief will 'listen to teachers'

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SIR RON DEARING, former chairman of the Post Office, has been appointed to head the Government's most powerful new education body.

The Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority will, in October, take over responsibility both for what is taught in schools in England, and how pupils are tested at 7, 11, 14 and 16.

It will replace the National Curriculum Council and the School Examination and Assessment Council. The chairmen of those two authorities will stand down next month, and Sir Ron will chair them until October.

His appointment has left a sour taste at the National Curriculum Council: David Pascall, its chairman, had expected to be appointed executive chairman of the new authority, and was disappointed by the decision to deny him the opportunity.

The new authority will be based in London, close to ministers. A new Funding Agency for opted-out schools will be based at the present curriculum council's office in York.

Sir Ron, at present chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will be a part-time chairman of the new authority. Its full-time chief executive has yet to be appointed.

He takes over at a time of mounting discontent among teachers over repeated changes to the curriculum and testing arrangements, particularly in English and technology. He negotiated potentially stormy industrial relations at the Post Office where he was chairman for seven years: he is credited with turning it round financially.

He will be succeeded in the higher education job by Brandon Gough, chairman of Coopers and Lybrand, the accountancy firm.

Sir Ron's first comment on his job was that schools had to be somewhere that children enjoyed going; his second was that he would be doing a lot of listening to teachers.

'We must make a school a rewarding experience to young people who are not academically inclined but have other talents,' said Sir Ron, whose first job after leaving school was in a labour exchange in Hull. 'We have a particular responsibility to enable all young people to enjoy school and feel they want to go there.'

His father had been killed in an air raid and he was evacuated at the age of 11 to live with a mining family in Doncaster. He experienced poverty at first hand. He went on to a distinguished Civil Service career, including two years' absence to take an economics degree at Hull and a year at the London Business School.

'I am very interested in the vocational side. The academic side has had such esteem traditionally and I am concerned to get equal esteem for the vocational side. I think it is worthy of it,' Sir Ron said.

'One of the most important things in life is to be a good listener. I intend to be doing a lot of listening to people in teaching. I start with a lot of respect and admiration for the teaching profession. I think it is something to be proud of, to be a teacher.'

When he took over as chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council, after chairing the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, he called for academics to show more interest in excellence in teaching as opposed to research which traditionally carried more prestige. 'Excellence in teaching is no mean aspiration,' he said at the time.

A curriculum and assessment body for Wales is expected to start operation next year.

(Photographs omitted)