Another think tank attacks the effectiveness of the education quangocracy


 A report from the Centre Right think tank the Centre for Policy Studies calls for the abolition of two thirds of the government agencies that deal with education, and it claims that more than a billion pounds has been spent on the taxpayer-funded quangos with little evidence that they have raised standards in schools.

The Centre for Policy Studies urges reform of the main organisations, including Ofsted, the General Teaching Council and the School Food Trust. The findings echo those of another think tank Reform which at the last budget called for a cull of quangos. The CPS research analysed 11 education quangos receiving public funding totalling £1.2 billion in 2007-08. In the last year, the cost to the taxpayer of these organisations has increased by 12 per cent.

The study recommends scrapping two-thirds of Britain’s education quangos to free schools from red tape and save the taxpayer more than £600 million. Significant savings could be made by giving more power to schools to control their own curriculum and train teachers, researchers said David Laws, the schools spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “At a time when public finances are being squeezed, we must ask if these quangos are necessary.”

Michael Gove commented that efforts had to be “directed to identifying waste and unnecessary bureaucracy” to “concentrate resources where they are needed: in the classroom”. David Cameron recently announced that the Tories would look closely at quangos and get rid of those that were unable to prove their worth, though he fell short of listing those he thought unnecessary. This will have to await a review, that is evidence based, so don’t expect any quick reforms under the Tories.

 The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Government’s technology agency, Becta, are among those that should be abolished, researchers at the right-of-centre think tank said. The charges against quangos, more generally, are that they fail adequately to measure their performance and outputs and measure their inputs instead; that they fail to demonstrate the value they add-particularly at the chalk face; that they lack transparency in the way they report their results and what they pay their executives ; that they are unaccountable in that neither parliament nor other regulators such as the national audit office systematically and regularly scrutinise what they do, how they do it and whether they provide taxpayers with value for money; and, this is a particular bug near of the private and not for profit sectors, they compete unfairly for government contracts, subsidised by the taxpayer and cross subsidise their operations both here and abroad.

In short, arms length accountability is not direct accountability and serves to increase the perceived gap between the government and its agencies and the electorate/taxpayer. When something goes wrong in a quango such as the LSC or QCA as has happened recently this perception is reinforced. Buck passing is institutionalised, with politicians failure to take responsibility for mistakes in these agencies  serving to confirm just how unaccountable these bodies  are in practice.

 The Department for Children, Schools and Families’ annual report in 2008 revealed that productivity in UK education had fallen by 0.7 per cent a year between 2000 and 2006, while the scope of quangos activities has increased dramatically.

In the Governments drive to improve efficiency and productivity quangos are rarely mentioned, though they are increasing their role in education The authors of the report argue that the new QCDA (formerly the QCA) should be scrapped and replaced by a small Curriculum Advisory Board, with the aim of freeing schools from centralised control in the national curriculum.

 Plans by ministers to abolish national strategies and “repeated” fiascos in the Sats exams, showed the failure of the QCA, it said.

Among the reports key recommendations were: The TDA should be abolished. Teacher training should be employment-based. Trainee teachers should be funded through a voucher scheme. The NCSL (and the mandatory nature of the NPQH), Becta, 11 MILLION, Teachers’ TV, and STRB should all be abolished, while the remit and funding of PfS should be reduced. The GTC and SFT should become voluntary organisations and should receive no government funding. Ofsted should reduce in size and focus exclusively on what happens in the classroom.

Other quango critics have suggested that the SSATs role should also be reviewed. At the heart of the issue concerning education quangos lies their lack of accountability, transparency and competitive neutrality.

 And this in turn begs the question- could their work be better delivered and at less cost through the private and the third sectors? One thing is for sure, they have acted as a major obstacle to the development of a mature supply market in education both here and abroad, where the UK should be a world leader. Suppliers find the risks and costs of competing against grant funded quangos just too high. Most have been driven abroad to look for new opportunities but, even there, find their own Government promoting  taxpayer funded  quangos for contracts at their expense. The SSAT, NCSL and British Council are  on the list of the usual suspects here.

 So much for contestability in the market, one of the Governments cherished aims,we were told. CPS Report; School quangos;

An agenda for abolition and reform TOM BURKARD AND SAM TALBOT RICE


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