Top Whitehall post goes to advocate of exam reform

December 23, 2005

An advocate of A-level reform who thinks university students should be given "a taste of modern business" has been appointed Britain's top education mandarin.

David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools, will replace David Normington as permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills in January. Mr Normington is to become permanent secretary at the Home Office.

In articles last year, Mr Bell predicted that A levels and GCSEs would be replaced by a diploma system, as advocated by his predecessor at Ofsted, Sir Mike Tomlinson, within a decade.

Mr Bell wrote that if schools adopted many of the practices of a diploma system - mixing vocational and academic study - ministers would would be obliged to adjust the examination system.

In a speech last month to the Association of Colleges, Mr Bell said: "Some people argue that there is little point in the Oxbridge candidate having any experience of work-related learning. I would argue the opposite. Giving youngsters a taste of modern business is as important in school as it is at university and I think there remains a big challenge here for the education system."

James Rogers, executive director of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, welcomed Mr Bell's appointment and said he hoped the "open-door" style of working he brought to Ofsted would continue in his new role. "He based judgments on evidence collected on the ground. We also welcomed the more collegiate approach he brought to Ofsted - we were able to develop cordial and relatively warm relationships with them," Mr Rogers said.

Mr Bell, 46, is an avid football fan and read history and philosophy at Glasgow University. He obtained a PGCE and later took a master of education in management and administration at Glasgow. He began his career as a primary school teacher and will be the first permanent secretary to be appointed from outside the civil service.

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