Tag Archives: ssat



Public Administration Committee says that reform of quangos has been a lost opportunity and the Bill is poorly drafted

But reforms on-going


Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, has been driving through reforms in the delivery of public services to drive down costs,  to improve efficiency,  deliver value for money, streamline public  procurement and to encourage greater  transparency and accountability. He also wants to see, at the end of this process, a greater role for small and medium sized enterprises in public service delivery.   Reforms have included a partial cull of the Quangocracy, though  more barbecue, say critics. than the widely anticipated bonfire. Although the process of reform is on-going organisations such as the British Council , the TDA  and NCSL (the SSAT now  has less public funding to manage but is still competing unfairly with non-subsidised private and not for profit operators in the markets here and abroad)  have emerged largely unscathed from the review although  critics want these organisations to be cut down to size , made more transparent and accountable and for them to demonstrate, against clear  performance benchmarks, that they deliver value for money for taxpayers  and that the services they provide cannot be provided better and cheaper by the private  and  not for profit providers ,or indeed social enterprises.

The Public Administration Committee has been looking at reforms affecting quangos and has just published a report ‘ Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State . The verdict is  that the Government’s “Bonfire of the Quangos” has been “poorly managed” resulting in badly drafted legislation that won’t deliver significant cost savings or improved accountability. Bernard Jenkin, the committee’s Conservative chairman, says “the whole process was rushed and poorly handled and should have been thought through a lot more”. Pre-election promises from the Conservatives  about cuts to costly bureaucracy “created a false expectation that the review would deliver greater savings” than appear likely. And to make meaningful savings, the government needs to examine not just how the quangos operate, but what they exist to do. In many cases, the committee argues, functions could have been transferred to charities or mutuals. “This was a fantastic opportunity to help build the big society and save money at the same time,” Mr Jenkin says. “But it has been botched.”

The Committee report claims that the Public Bodies Reform Bill currently with the Lords  aimed at delivering  these reforms was  badly drafted. And it  promised to issue a further detailed report on the Bill once the Lords have finished their scrutiny. The report concluded “ The Government should have reassessed what function public bodies are needed to perform and transferred many more of these activities to charities and mutuals. Doing so would have helped explain more clearly its vision for a Big Society, giving these organisations the ability to provide more government services. It should also have used the review to get control of some activities of public bodies that provide questionable benefit to the taxpayer, most notably the use of public funds for lobbying and public relations campaigns.”  The  Committee added  that ‘Deciding which bodies can be moved into the private and voluntary sector should form only part of the Government’s review. It should also reconsider what activities public bodies should continue to engage in. Some public bodies have allowed their remit to increase over the years and there is a need to refocus them on their core functions. Identifying the essential activities of these bodies will both make them more efficient and reduce cost. This principle must be embedded in future reviews. (Paragraph 114)

The Committee intends to bring forward proposals to strengthen the  Select Committees’ role in scrutinising changes to public bodies in its future report on the detail of the Public Bodies Reform Bill.

The Committee though  has failed to address the issue of  the unfair activities of quangos in the markets  both here and abroad which disadvantage non-subsidised private and not for profit providers. In short,  Quangos use taxpayers money to  cross subsidise their operations  in order to under cut  other competitors bids for contracts  and quangos, such as the SSAT and British Council,  are frequently awarded contracts that are not put out to open  tender which  apart from being unfair, cannot ensure value for money for taxpayers. Francis Maude has, though,  been made aware of providers concerns  and their  calls for urgent  reform.

Mr Maude  has rejected the Committees  criticism, promising to “see the reforms through”. The Committee welcomed the Minister’s comments which indicate that future reviews will include considerations about efficiency and value for money of quangos along with his assurances that  he would be able to devise a more cost-effective review system than previous efforts.

Reforms are on-going  driven by the Cabinet Office.




Not quite as robust as some claim


The Sykes Review of qualifications added to the growing criticism of contextual value added (CVA) measurement, increasingly used in league tables and by the SSAT quango to measure the performance of the state schools its supports (over 90%).The Sykes review noted that while the use of CVA is an attempt to “respond, within the league table culture, to a genuine and important issue; namely the greater challenge that some schools face, compared to others, in improving the academic achievement of their pupils….the implied precision of these measures is, in fact, spurious, and the measures are therefore unfair to schools and teachers, and to pupils and parents making use of them.” So, the Review recommended that “Wide performance measures (value added, CVA, average point score) should not be calculated unless it can be demonstrated that there is real underlying validity to the methodology, including the methodology for valuing different qualifications and different subjects within the same groups of qualifications.” Significantly, there is a range of different types of value added measurement. A recent US report by the National Research Council and National Academy of Education, found, to nobody’s apparent surprise, there is not one dominant Value Added Measurement. It noted too that “there are many technical and practical issues that need to be resolved in order for researchers to feel confident in supporting certain policy uses of value-added results”. Indeed, it went further concluding that no one  value-added approach (or any test-based indicator, for that matter) addresses all the challenges to identifying effective or ineffective schools or teachers. Each major class of model has shortcomings, and there is no consensus on the best approaches, and little work has been done on synthesizing the best aspects of each approach. There are questions too about the accuracy and stability of value added estimates of schools, teachers, or programme effects. The overall conclusion was that much more needs to be learned about how these properties differ, using different value-added techniques and under different conditions.



According to a new report our Education system is letting us down and its mainly to do with Trust

Quangos should be slimmed down and their influence reduced; all schools should be independent


On Monday Dr Anthony Seldon presented a BBC 2 programme on Trust informed by his recent book on the same subject ( Anthony Seldon, Trust: How we lost it, and how to get it back, Biteback, 2009)

He gives examples of the lack of trust between people  and  the institutions that purport to serve or represent them . His argument is that this has a corrosive effect on society and governance and diminishes the quality of all our lives. And an absence of trust in our relationships leads essentially to a dysfunctional society. But it doesn’t have to be like this, he says, and he looks beyond politics and to the past for answers in pursuit of greater accountability, social harmony and well-being placing power back in the hands of people at the grassroots. Fundamental reforms are needed with different approaches to re-establish Trust ( polling suggests that just 30% of the electorate trust politicians) but change must come from each and every one of us in the way we act, and interact, including for example,  through more community engagement and volunteering.

At the end of last week  the centre right think tank the Centre for Policy Studies published a Seldon pamphlet  ‘An end to Factory Schools’ -An education manifesto 2010 – 2020 in which  he argues that  too many state schools have become factories. Results (at least on paper) have improved. But, he asks, at what cost? Reluctant students are processed, says Seldon, through a system which is closely controlled and monitored by the state. No area of public life is more important than education to prepare people to live meaningful, productive and valuable lives. Yet our schools turn out young people who are often incapable of living full and students’ lack of academic and personal skills while universities find that the end products of schools can be little more than well drilled automatons who do not know how to think independently about their academic subjects. Seldon’s book (and the TV programme) and the CPS pamphlet are linked. He writes ‘If one unifying idea draws together the ensuing chapters, it is the need for more trust throughout education. Government needs to trust schools, heads and teachers more. Parents need to be trusted more to choose the school for their children and to be far more actively involved in their children’s schools. Governors need to trust heads more. Heads need to trust teachers more. Teachers need to trust students more. Parents need to trust their children more. Students need to trust adults more. Mistakes will be made, but that in a free society is how learning occurs, how progress is made.’

In his film in one particularly striking scene he talks to a Primary school Head who shows the number of policies and regulations that his school has to adhere to, vividly illustrating just how little trust politicians and bureaucrats have in his ability as Headteacher to run his school.

Seldon makes twenty recommendations in his report calling for independent state schools free to decide their own curriculum, with active learning, not rote learning.

He wants a more holistic approach too to learning, encouraging all children to   develop the ‘eight aptitudes’ , informed by Howard Gardners eight intelligences, combined with diversification of public examinations. He calls for a radical restructuring of the current exam regime and for the stranglehold of A-Levels and GCSEs in England and Wales to be ended. The Government should instead welcome alternative exam systems, including the IB at diploma, middle years and primary years level. Within schools, the focus should shift away from assessment and teaching-to-the test, towards genuine learning and understanding.  Significantly, he wants the influence of QCDA and Ofqual to be “greatly reduced.” The General Teaching Council (GTC) should be abolished and recast as a far more rigorously professional body, upholding and championing the highest standards rather than acting as a trade union protecting teachers. And ‘The education ‘establishment’ ,including the DCSF, QCDA, Ofqual, Ofsted, the TDA, SSAT, GTC and ISC, should all undergo radical restructuring before 2015. They need to decentralize power, he says, to facilitate rather than drive change and to work collaboratively rather than dictatorially. They should be far slimmer. They need to trust schools more and let creativity and individuality blossom, rather than be stifled by central blueprint.’

For those who have caricatured  happiness classes in schools, Seldon reminds them that promoting ‘well-being’ does not require special lessons, but could be emphasized in all aspects of a school’s activities, including politeness and good manners, and a smart and distinct school uniform.  On inspections, he believes that Ofsted should be cut considerably and be focused on teaching and learning, not on children’s services. . Schools which are performing poorly should be inspected regularly, while those performing at high levels should not be inspected at all. Seldon was an admirer of Tony Blair as Prime Minister (though not of his conduct over Iraq). But he comes to not so flattering, conclusions on the effects of 13 years of New Labour’s education policies.

First, the disparities in performance between the independent and state sectors are increasing, not reducing. Independents have improved more rapidly than state schools and the current mix of policies to deal with the divide between independent and state schools will never succeed in closing the gap. Second, those children from the least advantaged backgrounds who would benefit from additional funding above the average, are receiving a worse education than those who attend popular state schools or who attend fee-paying schools. Seldon concludes ‘A new approach is needed. Its ultimate aim must be independence for all schools.’

Many of his ideas find favour with the Tories, and the shadow Education Secretary Michael Gove and Seldon are members of a mutual appreciation society, with Lord Adonis (Labour) an honorary member.




Big reforms required to protect taxpayers and the market


According to the LGA the quangocracy now manages and recycles £43.2 billion of public money every year – that’s £2,000 per household. Another estimate claims that there are at least 1,500 bodies with around 700,000 staff and a total budget above £64 billion. Some do an important job, particularly those that regulate and monitor standards.  With others though it is hard to tell what they do that adds value, or whether what they do is effective.

And, what about education quangos?

Across the UK, there are over 80 known quangos involved in the government-directed provision of education, training, or skills services. The combined known budgets of these quangos amounts to around £24 billion (there is some dispute over what is and isn’t a quango which accounts for the differing estimates). The bulk of this is made up £11bn for the Learning and Skills Council (on its way out) and £6.9bn for the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Far from taking the knife to   education quangos the government has recently created three new quangos to replace the LSC: the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), the Skills Funding Agency and the National Apprenticeship Service. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) believe these three quangos will be unwieldy, complex and costly. They also claim the bodies will employ more staff than necessary. So no surprises there then.

These education quangos come in all shapes and sizes with different legal status’.Two things they have in common though are that they are taxpayer funded, either fully or in part, and they are carrying out tasks for the government. Of course they differ in their role and functions .We probably have five main quango groupings. First  the wholesalers – in other words, the upstream distributors of the money – e.g. Learning and Skills Council and its successors, Higher Education Funding Council, Teachers Development Agency. Next we have the Regulators e.g. regulators or those with an oversight position like the GTC, OFSTED, QCDA OFQAL .Third the advisory quangos. Fourth the tribunal quangos   And, finally, the service providers – these could be or are independent providers to the end customer. Under these one could include SSAT, the NCSL and the British Council.  Quangos are continually being created, occasionally dissolved, merged but relatively rarely abolished, despite successive Governments promising a bonfire of quangos and to cut waste. Keeping track therefore of education quangos is very much a moving target. Even now (see above) more quangos are being created.

But most lack basic transparency and accountability. They report at different times of the year, in different formats, applying different rules for public disclosure.  Frequently, they publish their results in non-searchable pdf formats and lodge these reports with the Charities Commission or Companies House (which must be paid for).  Some are subject to Freedom of Information requirements, some not. They defy easy scrutiny and accessibility. Their web sites are, too often, hard to navigate and often do not publish detailed performance indicators and performance outputs or much detail about how they spend our money. They prefer instead to measure inputs rather than outputs ie how many conferences they run, rather than how their activities directly impact on learners performance and at the chalk face.   What is clear, according to Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association is that “ the public want more involvement in decision-making and the quango state is the least accountable part of the public sector. “

The Reform think tank in its pre-Budget report released on 20 April  last year claimed that an education bureaucracy has developed that is “ unresponsive to the consumer and restricts professional judgment”.  The think tank argued that the number of quangos is unsustainable –“To pursue important reforms such as the academies programme expansion and higher education funding change, it is vital that costly central dictation and extraneous activities are removed. This will free resources and capacity for reform.”  Echoing a sentiment expressed in a Times leader at the time, Reform said that money should be spent at school level rather than on (Ministers) ‘vanity projects’. Reform demanded “swingeing cuts” to education quangos. Ministers rather like quangos as a rule. They afford them scope for dispensing patronage and creating distance between them and prickly policy areas ,farmed out to quangos. If things go pear shaped which they often do (think QCA and LSCs funding of colleges) they pass the buck. The nothing to do with me guv-approach undermines accountability of course and Ministerial responsibility leaving stakeholders confused and frustrated but its now part of our system.  A Centre for Policy Studies report also last year authored by Tom Burkard and Sam Talbot Rice said seven of the main 11 education quangos in England should be abolished, with the remaining ones being reformed or turned over to the voluntary or private sectors. On their hit list- the new QCDA (formerly the QCA) to be replaced by a small Curriculum Advisory Board, with the aim of freeing schools from the centralized control they face from the National Curriculum. The TDA, NCSL and BECTA should also go, and Partnerships for Schools re-vamped.  In some cases, they said, the powers the bodies have should be devolved down to schools. Sam Talbot Rice says part of the problem with quangos is that they are set up to tackle a certain problem, but then things move on and they are not needed in the same way but are difficult to dismantle because this sometimes requires legislation.  “It’s easy to reach for a quango when there is a problem,” he said.  “They are easy to set up and hard to get rid of. There might have been an initial reason for them and they have grown, drawing in taxpayers’ money.”

The Local Government Association in a more general  report on quangos  ‘Putting Power into Local Hands’ discovered that some of the quangos  they looked at spend large sums of tax payers’ money to employ senior managers to deliberate policy, strategy and communications, as opposed that is  to managing the delivery functions the quango is actually responsible for. Collectively they are spending much more on communications without though, paradoxically, becoming any more transparent in the process.   Transparency and basic unmediated communications is signally lacking with many quangos. The SSAT incurs the wrath of education journalists by running a significant and expensive in-house PR department, while concurrently sub-contracting an external PR agency to answer any press inquiries, so placing a shield between themselves and the media (and other stakeholders)-fairly typical of the mind set of this secretive quango, which supports Academies and Specialist schools. Quite apart from the expense of it all-it fails the most basic transparency test. My guess is that if the SSAT has a future it will be in slim line form. It will have to change its attitude both to the way it  manages public funds, it measures itself (relying almost exclusively on measurement by contextual added value given its limitations is simply not good enough) and the way it conducts itself in the marketplace. It has managed to alienate most of the large education suppliers in both  the profit and not for profit sectors.

And what about their funding?  All are subsidized by the taxpayer. They are great recyclers of taxpayers money too. The SSAT will claim that it only receives about 20% of its income in grant form. But given that it supports 90% of state schools many of whom pay it fees and it has guaranteed contracts to support schools many of which are not open to competition, the reality is that most of the SSATs income comes via different routes and streams from the taxpayer.

Education quangos have a great predilection for funding each other. Delivering resources to the front line ought to entail a minimum of friction and intermediation between the public sector and the end consumer. Instead, there are often several layers of capital transfers and bureaucracy from central government via other bodies towards education quangos and then to the front line.  This is inefficient and wasteful.

Nor are Education quangos competitively neutral using as they do their grant funded privileged position to compete in the market here and increasingly abroad. Private sector companies claim that Quangos cross subsidise and can conceal the real costs of their bids when competing for contracts, so giving them a competitive advantage while selling themselves on the back of implicit government guarantees and  backed by guaranteed income streams from long term government contracts, many of which are not put out to open tender.  When competing abroad for contracts they receive more support too from UK officials than private companies.  True. Try pitching for education contracts that the British Council is interested in and see how much the local embassy helps you or indeed the British Council (which is supposed to promote British education interests abroad).

This is of great concern because no consideration is currently given to the “crowding out” of private sector education services. Apart from the obvious business of teaching and funding students ,ostensibly  to acquire new skills and improve training or learning,  education quangos also have acquired, and have been encouraged in this respect by the Government, a commercial line in publications, awards ceremonies, consultancy, training, school support advice and improvement services, international offices and networking, membership programmes and even conferences. All of these could and should be competitively contracted out to the private and not for profit sectors and thus have a positive deflationary impact on the cost of state-funded education. With pressure soon to be put on quango budgets many of these functions will be kept in-house to protect   these quango’s income streams and taxpayer quangos will search for business abroad, bringing them up more often against non-subsidised UK companies which by definition have to compete at a disadvantage.  This acts against fair competition, contestability and also stunts the development of the education market as non –subsidized companies find it too costly and risky to compete head to head with quangos.

The fact is it is all a mess and cant continue like this as politicians realize. Lord Mandelson has called for review of certain quangos and the Prime Minister would like some rationalization.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman David Laws has said: “The rise of education quangos has been incredibly expensive and there’s little evidence to suggest they have raised standards. At a time when public finances are being squeezed, we must ask if these quangos are necessary. When infant class sizes are rising and schools need more money to support struggling pupils, we need to be looking at ways to divert more money to the front line rather than to bureaucrats.”

The Tories have pledged to cut quangos if they gain power. The shadow education secretary, Michael Gove, has said every effort had to be “directed to identifying waste and unnecessary bureaucracy” to “concentrate resources where they are needed: in the classroom”.

It would be worth senior quango managers revisiting the Nolan principles. Two in particular spring to mind. On openness – ‘Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands’. And on Accountability - ‘Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.’

And the time has surely come for a proper audit of quangos, and for those that can demonstrate that they fulfil an essential purpose and deliver public value to be held more rigorously accountable, with the rest abolished. Ironically a regulator might be needed to control the activities of quangos in the market or a ban introduced  on quangos from competing in the market for specified services unless they can demonstrate unequivocally that they are competitively neutral.



Poor public sector productivity places quangos in the frame


Close to 90% of our government is carried out now not by ministerial departments, but delegated to a vast quangocracy,  made up of hybrid  organizations,  operating below the waterline, with limited supervision and scrutiny by Parliament .

It is bizarre that in this new age of transparency  our Parliamentarians ,whose job is to scrutinize the Executive and hold it to account, find their expenses are under detailed scrutiny, while  those who run  our quangocracy, the  delivery agents,   largely escape any such scrutiny. Do they deliver public value? Who knows? 

 They operate in various guises and  under differing legal umbrellas , some are statutory public bodies, others charities and some  even  operate as  private companies (allowing them to pretend  that they are not quangos, to avoid too close a scrutiny of the way they spend our money -think SSAT) all with different standards of transparency and disclosure of information.

One thing they have in common though is that they receive taxpayers money and implement Government policy, but are not, for the most part,  being held directly accountable for their outputs (often left free, incidentally,  to measure their own performance) .  Matthew Flinders 2007 book Delegated Governance and the British State: Walking Without Order is a real eye- opener. Flinders  argues that the British state is ‘walking without order’ due to a general acceptance of the logic of delegation without any detailed or principled consideration of the administrative of democratic consequences of this process. He reveals that there are about 5,000 quangos nationwide and some 1,500 centrally.

 For sure, Quangos do some good work. They can organise lavish conferences for starters. They help identify and disseminate best practice. But it is not always clear why, if there is such demand for their services, not for profits and the private sector couldn’t do their work just as well and at less cost. Too often quangos are given work that is not put out to open tender. How does this secure best value for taxpayers? Indeed securing best value for taxpayers is not, it would   seem, high on their list of priorities. Clearly it should be.

 Quangos bring in outside expertise, create a buffer zone round political hot potatoes and cut ministerial overload. They also provide a useful network to  enable Ministers to dispense political patronage as they appoint quango heads. (So much for merit, and recruiting the best manager for the job).  Quangos are responsible for ensuring that centrally driven initiatives are implemented. But many of these have been seen to have failed . They are at arms length from Departments so this  means that if things  do go badly, which they often do, Ministers can create space between them and the offending Quango. In this game of smoke and mirrors and passing the buck the one casualty is accountability. Historically, opposition parties always say that there will be a bonfire of quangos when they win power but the reality unfortunately can be   rather more prosaic. In truth, more barbecue than bonfire.   The Tories cut the quango count by 50 per cent when last in power.  However, the cost of the remaining bodies went from £6bn to £22bn. This Government in its first 10 years in power, then created 300 new bodies as the public sector expanded and the private (wealth creating) sector contracted.(still happening by the way)

 The education sector, of course, has its own alphabet soup of acronyms making up its own quangocracy. But given that we are currently in dire economic circumstances, and public finances have been shot through, there is a growing feeling that the time has come to seriously look at the cost effectiveness of these quangos. Indeed, whoever wins office next year , it is hard not to see how  they will avoid making (big) cuts. Sue Cameron of the FT informs us that the Government (and Tories) have been studying Matthew Flinders book in some detail. The Truth is that they know there is wastage and inefficiencies; Cameron has talked about it in some detail. But knowing it is the easy part. Knowing where to apply the scalpel, without significant political fall out is the hard bit.

More generally our public services have experienced a real terms funding increase of 55 per cent, financed by an increase of 5 per cent of GDP in public expenditure since 2000. Yet public sector productivity has continued to fall: by 3.4 per cent over the last ten years, compared to the private sector’s 27.9 per cent productivity gain over the same period. Some of the blame for this rests with the bloated quangocracy. On education productivity the ONS said on 1 December that the volume of education inputs – how many resources the government puts in – rose by 33 per cent between 1996 and 2008. The volume of outputs – how much the state gets in return – also increased by 33 per cent. As a result, productivity – a measure of efficiency that divides output by input – stayed the same. Implicit in the ONS  report is that increased spending should have led to a sustained rise in productivity and that standards in schools ought to have increased by a significantly bigger margin than they have.

 Measuring productivity in public services can be a challenge and is  an inexact science (though  apparently we pride ourselves in being world leaders in public service productivity measurement) , but there are very few observers out there who believe that the massive investment in education (it rose, at current prices, from £29 billion in 1996 to £63.9 billion last year — an annual rate of increase of 6.8 per cent.) has delivered the expected returns  and the education quangocracy cannot avoid sharing some of  the blame for this .

So, fundamental reforms seem likely. The fact is that, more than piecemeal reform, we need a transformation in how Government does business and a debate about where the boundaries of the state should lie. The challenge is to deliver more with less, getting more resources to the frontline by eliminating intermediary organizations and all processes that do not add value. So where does that leave some of our quangos?



Coming of age?


 The SSAT recently arranged for twenty Headteachers to attend a conference in Mauritius to share views and insights, with their international peers, on Citizenship education.

The Telegraph used the visit as a stick with which to beat the SSAT portraying it as another quango distributing taxpayer’s money for freebies in the midst of a recession, like it was going out of fashion. Certainly if good citizenship has anything to do with protecting the environment, Heads leaving their large carbon footprints behind as they travel across the globe is probably not the best way, of getting the message across, on what responsible global citizenship is all about. It is, it seems ,not just politicians who have a keen sense of personal entitlement and an inability to see themselves as others see them or to understand how their actions are viewed outside their own bubble.

 But such conduct doesn’t detract from the importance of teaching values related to citizenship to pupils and making them more aware of the values that help bind our society and communities. Nor, the importance of seeking to identify best international practice.

We are in a materialistic age in which pursuit of self interest is too often not mitigated by a sense of community, a willingness to serve others, an awareness of others needs and yes, the virtue inherent in a modicum of self-denial.

The NFER has just published a report ‘Citizenship and values education to the rescue! A call to action by the Five Nations Network’. This was the result of a recent conference. The five nations involved are England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Key points for the Call to Action are: Ensuring that every young person across the Five Nations has a right and entitlement to high quality citizenship and values education Galvanising support in educating people to play an active and responsible part in democratic life and exercise their rights and responsibilities Getting politicians and policy makers to make a renewed commitment to Citizenship and Values Education to enable young people to engage with our increasingly complex, challenging and changing world The report acknowledges that Public outrage at ‘MPs expenses’, increased mistrust in politics and politicians, the rise of the far right parties and a meltdown in democratic participation have all highlighted the urgency for investment in Citizenship and Values Education. Despite differences in culture, history and approach to Citizenship and Values Education across the five education systems, the Five Nations Network has brought together policy-makers, teachers, practitioners, stakeholders, NGOs and young people for an annual conference .They are now determined to take joint action.

The overarching aim of the conference was to take stock of where education for values and citizenship has come from, where it is currently and where it should go and, in the light of dialogue and debate, to set the agenda by agreeing what needs to be done to move this area forward across the Five Nations. The conference report stresses the importance of educating people, particularly young people, to play an active and responsible part in democratic life and to exercise their rights and responsibilities in society. It also focuses on the need to prepare people with the knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values needed to work together on issues, make decisions and take action and thereby making a major contribution to community cohesion and equity in society. Among the report’s conclusions was that the drive to educate young people for life in the 21st century, the move to more flexible curriculum and learning frameworks, and the emphasis on competence – and skills-based learning all strengthen the opportunities for citizenship and values education to get a firmer foothold in the curriculum and at whole-school and wider community levels. In schools – there is a need for increasing encouragement to school leaders and teachers to use their professional judgment in shaping curriculum and learning experiences, so that they fit the needs of their learners. School and local contexts, creates opportunities for citizenship and values education to be integral to how schools are organised, the values they promote and the learning experiences they encourage. Among young people – the increasing concern of young people about the society in which they are growing up, frustration at not having a voice on issues that matter to them, and boredom with traditional teaching and learning, create the opportunity to underline the relevance of citizenship and values education to the lives and concerns of young people.

 It does seem that the idea of Citizenship education has grown up over the last few years and is beginning to spawn some innovative joint approaches. http://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/33304/33304.pdf



 Tories attack Quangos

Keys are accountability, effectiveness and control over expenditure


The government says there are 790 quangos. Others , including the Taxpayers’ Alliance, say there are well over 1,000. As a result the estimated cost varies from £34bn to about £64 bn.

Opposition parties always promise before elections to make public services more efficient and to cut wastage.

The Tories are no exception but the recession and credit crunch gives their claims greater credence.

 Significantly Liam Byrne, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has just written to Whitehall departments demanding an urgent review of all quangos to assess which can be abolished, merged with other bodies or taken back directly into their ministries. (Yet another example of the Government stealingTory ideas?) David Cameron promised on 6 July, at a Reform think tank event, to take a ‘forensic’ look at all Quangos to establish whether they are necessary .He has asked shadow cabinet members to look at the quangos within their remit and to report back to him. Reform has taken the lead on attacking government waste and inefficiency and has already offered a list of some Quangos that ought to be abolished. Cameron believes that much of the frustration with politics and politicians is because people feel that they cannot influence government.

Not least because so much of Government operates through arms length, near to Government quangos which are not accountable to the electorate. Indeed, it is not at all clear to whom they are accountable.

 In short, people are fed up with bureaucrats lording it over them, not least because one cant get rid of them if they fail, which is not uncommon.

Governments have progressively devolved responsibilities to them as executive agencies and they have become more politically active, actually formulating policy while concurrently electors feel that they have no control over them, although their decisions increasingly affect all our lives. But it is for accountable politicians to make policy decisions, not unaccountable bureaucrats.

Cameron said “Too many state actions, services and decisions are carried out by people who cannot be voted out by the public, by organisations that feel no pressure to answer for what happens – in a way that is completely unaccountable.” They control at least £65 billion of public money and 68 quango heads earn more than the Prime Minister, Cameron said.

 He wants three basic questions to be asked of quangos to see if they are fit for purpose.

They control at least £64 billion of public money and 68 quango heads earn more than the Prime Minister, Cameron  said. He wants three basic questions to be asked of quangos to see if they are fit for purpose. First are  they absolutely  necessary in  terms of the  specialist technical support and advice  they bring to public service delivery?

Next, do they fulfil an important, politically  impartial role .

And ,finally are they important in establishing objective facts  and data that can help inform policy and  practice?

 I would simplify this to- are they vital for regulation, first, and second do they have a measurable positive impact on the consumers of public services, ie in education can they demonstrate that they impact on the learner .If not either abolish them or if you feel the service is vital for instance in providing independent data, free from political manipulation, which is so common nowadays, then look to the private and not for profit sectors.

Though reluctant to be drawn into naming ineffective quangos he did mention the schools’ Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), which develops the national curriculum. It will be closed.

 But another quango, Ofqual, the exams regulator, which has already proved controversial, would be retained although it might be reformed and its work will be closely monitored. The Tory approach however leaves a question mark over the alphabet soup of  education quango acronyms-the TDA, NCSL, SSAT etc all of which have attracted some criticism. The tax payer funded  SSAT is  busy opening overseas offices to advise other countries  on how to improve their education  systems.  One really couldnt make it up if one tried. They have just organised a jaunt to Maurittius so Headteachers  can  sun themselves while  they  discuss  … “global citizenship” . It obviously isnt one of the requirements of a global citizen nowadays  to worry  about  carbon footprints.

The lack of accountability of quangos is unanswerable. To get even the most basic of information from many of them you have to invoke the freedom of information act. They fall back on the old oft used ‘commercial in confidence’ defence. Few benchmark their performance and, or ,measure their ouputs in any meaningful sense . They fail to publish on the web regular, informative annual reports listing the remuneration of their executives, and how they meet their targets, which more often than not they have set themselves. They increasingly compete too with the private and not for profit sectors for public contracts but are grant funded, unlike their competitors, who have to take on greater commercial risk. Many are granted contracts without the need to compete and when they do compete they can conceal the real cost of their bids , cross -subsidise and often enjoy access to information for their bids, denied to their competitors, so giving them unfair advantage. Their presence in the market, moreover, stunts market development and increases the risk of market entry, so undermining ‘contestability’. It’s all an almighty dogs’ dinner of a mess.

 There is little accountability, transparency or competitive neutrality in evidence. Quango heads just don’t get it. They might if their expenses were to be looked at a little more closely. We don’t see much evidence of the pursuit of best (or public) value either.

 The Tory approach has much merit. But they are already signalling their caution. Indeed, it is hard to envisage a wholesale rationalisation of the quangocracy, though this may be long overdue and the right approach in our current economic circumstances. The reality is it will require huge political will and leadership to push through reforms against vested producer interests and the Tories will have to take on the public service unions.

 The big question is -do they have the political bottle?



Not what they at first seem


Specialist schools and their umbrella Quango, the SSAT, are under fire


The Liberal Democrats have recently called for the abolition of Specialist schools and the Tories too now have their doubts. It has already been established that Specialist schools do not have to recruit in numbers specialist teachers for their chosen specialism, which all seems a bit odd.

Although receiving significantly more funding than non-specialist schools many Specialist schools performance in GCSEs and particularly A levels do not stand out as being particularly ‘special’ .

Professor Alan Smithers and Dr Pamela Robinson of the University of Buckingham showed in a recent report that specialist schools appear to do better because poorer performing schools were not granted specialist status.

The report found “Specialist schools were found to add more value than non-specialist schools, but since adding value is part of the approval process they would have been the more effective in the first place.”

So, from the beginning, specialist schools have been creamed off, leaving a progressively weaker residual pool. The SSAT then, disingenuously, compares its schools with the ten per cent rump that is left. Unsurprisingly, given this funding  disparity they perform better.

 Professor Smithers said: “All the SSAT’s comparisons amount to is that if you take effective schools and give them extra money they do better than less effective schools without extra money.” In short the main benefit schools saw in being specialist was… err… the extra money. Many Heads will tell you that they apply for specialist status simply because it means their school will access more funding and for no other reason. More funding, of course, generally means better results

 In particular, the report looked at the impact of specialist science schools on physics participation and performance. In 2007, more pupils in music, languages and maths & computing schools than in science schools obtained an A grade in A-level physics.

 More than a quarter of the country’s 310 specialist science schools, for instance, failed to enter a single candidate for a physics, chemistry or biology GCSE last year.

 Instead, they opted to put pupils in for what everyone knows to be the less stretching -”double science” exam.

 And only a handful of the 350 specialist language colleges (4.3 per cent) it transpires were putting every pupil in for a GCSE in the subject.

 The label ‘Specialist’ now looks pretty threadbare, little more than a crude marketing tool with little substance behind it.

 The SSAT is already under fire for not measuring its schools performance using the Governments own  key benchmark, five good GCSEs including maths and English, instead using a Contextual added value measurement, which confuses parents.

 Considerably less than 50% of pupils in SSAT supported schools meet this Government benchmark, unsurprising given that many of the schools are regarded as ‘coasting’ by the Government (which perversely has awarded a new contract to the SSAT to improve its own coasting schools- its like telling one of our esteemed bankers –you haven’t met your targets but  anyway here is  a new contract plus a  bonus from the taxpayer   for good measure , and do give it another try).

 So much, for improving public sector productivity and securing ‘Public Value’.