Quangos pruned  just a bit

Is the Diploma under threat?


The Department for Education budget is to be cut by £670m –However  the  announcement included a promise that core school funding, Sure Start and 16-19 funding will be protected. Cuts include £311m for council spending on education. This covers services such as school transport – and will mean local authorities cutting education services or else finding savings from other budgets.

The threat to education quangos, talked up before the election, doesn’t seem to have translated into a radical cull which some anticipated and had  hoped for. It seems highly  unlikely though  that the Education Secretary, Michael  Gove , who along with David Laws (then Lib Dems Education spokesman) before the election  had a pretty jaundiced view about a number of quangos, now suddenly  believes that all but two  of them  are  now  indispensable  offering good value for taxpayers  money.

Becta, the government’s agency for improving the use of educational technology in schools, is to be scrapped. It has running costs of £65m per year – and savings this year are expected to be around £10m. There have been longstanding concerns over its costs and effectiveness.  There are a raft of other cuts from school projects – including £47m from one-to-one tuition, £60m from diplomas and other vocational qualifications, £1m from the School Food Trust and £40m from “Every Child” schemes, such as Every Child a Writer.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency has been told to start winding up its operations although some of its work will continue for a while. Gove wants it to withdraw as soon as possible from any of its qualifications and curriculum development work leaving this to the awarding bodies.

Other education quangos are being asked to make modest cuts. However  so far there is little evidence of moves to make them more transparent, accountable  or to better  measure  their outcomes or the value they add. But to be fair, these are early days for the new administration and Gove has much on his plate with  his  main priority remaining  supply side reforms.

There will be £150m more to fund 50,000 new apprenticeship places and £50m extra for further education colleges.

Cuts of £200m to the university budget will mean 10,000 fewer extra places than had been announced.

The future of the new Diploma qualification is also in doubt, with £60m cuts to red tape and marketing surrounding the qualifications confirmed by the government.

The qualification, which combines academic and practical learning, was one of Labour’s key educational reforms. However, critics have pointed out that it is neither one thing nor the other –falling between academic and vocational stools. Rather than being designed in response to demand from stakeholders it was, in practice, a botched compromise in response to the Tomlinson proposals, which Ruth Kelly had rejected, with most employers, leading HE institutions and the independent sector harbouring real doubts over both the qualifications relevance and rigour.  One leading Head who had thought seriously about offering the Engineering Diploma, seen as the blue riband of the new qualification, told me the Diploma (generally) was poorly conceived, poorly implemented and poorly sold. This, despite Ed Balls very personal backing for the new qualification.

On the ground it is proving to be too complex with relatively low take up  and difficult for some colleges to offer and in some instances, such as the Engineering Diploma, too expensive to deliver.  A department spokesman told the BBC “Part of the savings are looking more widely at what they want to do with the Diploma scheme”.  One wonders whether the Lib Dem contingent will seek to push the Tomlinson proposals back on the agenda.


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