In the news

March 19, 1999

Question. Who said: "The past is much more than beefeaters, the Mary Queen of Scots experience and brown signs on the motorway. It is also the achievements of poets, painters, playwrights, musicians, architects, philosophers, the endurance of ordinary people, the struggle against arbitrary rule and the evolution of institutions."

Answer. Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications Curriculum Authority and the man responsible for testing the nation's children and producing this week's proposals on the reform of A levels.

Moves to bring A levels closer to a European baccalaureate model may trigger cries of dumbing down, but Mr Tate's own academic credentials cannot be doubted. Born in Stoke-on-Trent, he was educated at a grammar school, taking his O levels at 14 and going on to read history at Balliol College, Oxford, at 16. He took a PGCE at Bristol and then taught at the now-defunct Roman Catholic boys' grammar, De La Salle College, in Sheffield. He has admitted using the cane, but was relieved when it was abolished.

He next trained teachers at the City of Birmingham College of Education before spending 14 years at Moray House College in Edinburgh. In 1988, he joined the National Curriculum Council to oversee the history curriculum. In 1991 he moved to London to join the School Examinations and Assessment Council, which later became the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Finally, in 1997, he became head of the QCA - formed when SCAA merged with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications - the most overt attempt yet to bridge the academic-vocational gap in UK education.

He has faced controversy, encouraging debate on the heritage handed to our children, dismissing the "pervasive hedonism of our society" and talking of right and wrong and the ten commandments. But his private life has remained private - he even refuses to discuss the schooling of his own children.

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