Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 11:16 UK

Call for quango cull in education

By Angela Harrison
Education Reporter, BBC News

children in classroom
Schools are not benefiting from quangos, the report says

Two thirds of England's education quangos should be scrapped, a report from a think tank says.

Cuts to the government-funded bodies would save £633m and free schools from bureaucracy, the report from the Centre for Policy Studies says.

The bodies responsible for developing the curriculum, regulating exams and training teachers all come under fire.

Ministers say the bodies are publicly accountable to them and the taxpayer, and are "doing a valuable job".

The authors of the report say politicians from all parties have called for cuts in the numbers and influence of quangos, but they have continued to flourish.

Quangos are bodies which are charged by the government, and paid by it, to perform a certain role.

They vary greatly in the way they are set up and in roles they perform but have two key aspects - they are not under direct control from ministers and the people who work for them are not civil servants.

They have been criticised by politicians from all sides at various times because of their cost, their number, or for an alleged lack of accountability.

But the squeeze on public finances caused by the recession is now putting them under even closer scrutiny. The government has already said they will be included in public sector "savings".

The Conservative leader David Cameron recently criticised what he called the "growth of the quango state" and pledged to cut the number of such bodies, saying this would save money and increase accountability.

Powers to schools

Report authors Tom Burkard and Sam Talbot Rice from the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) say 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.

In some cases, they say, the powers the bodies have should be devolved down to schools.

The report relates only to England, although the quangos listed have sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the authors say.

The research looked at 11 education quangos which received public funding of £1.2 billion in 2007/08.

It is not obvious what's been achieved for the money that's been spent
Sam Talbot Rice, report author

Sam Talbot Rice, CPS research director, said: "The basic argument is that there's a big concern of school standards, literacy and numeracy, particularly in primary schools.

"For all the increased money going into these quangos, it is not obvious what's been achieved for the money that's been spent.

"There is a need to save money now, and also a need to free schools up from centralised directives."

Among those which should be abolished according to the report are the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA), responsible for developing the school curriculum and exam system, the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), which is responsible for teacher training and teachers' professional development and the government's technology agency, Becta.

The National College for School Leadership, which trains head teachers and deputies, is also targeted for abolition.

These bodies are doing a valuable job, are publicly accountable to ministers and to the taxpayer, and are transparently and independently audited
Vernon Coaker
Schools Minister

Those which should be passed to the voluntary sector, according to the report, were the School Food Trust, brought in to improve the quality of school meals, the General Teaching Council, which is the professional body teachers in the state sector have to belong to, and the STRB, the body which advises government on the statutory employment conditions of teachers in England and Wales.

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said: "This report ignores the fact that these bodies are doing a valuable job, are publicly accountable to ministers and to the taxpayer, and are transparently and independently audited.

"This report would leave schools with additional responsibilities, including handling all staff training and development and pay negotiations.

"The jobs these bodies do would still have to be done, and these proposals would mean that burden would be placed on schools and teachers, taking them away from their core function of teaching."

A spokesman for the qualifications and curriculum body the QCDA said: "The QCDA is an important part of the education policy landscape; its areas of expertise and the work it carries out support ministers to meet their challenges for education.

"QCDA is a statutory body and it carries out the functions set out in legislation in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible."

'Burdens'

Other organisations criticised the report, saying it was inaccurate.

A spokesman for the TDA said: "The CPS report seriously misrepresents the role of the TDA and is full of factual errors.

"The agency succeeded in addressing the teacher recruitment crisis of the late 90s. Schools now have sufficient teachers. We help to recruit almost 40,000 new trainee teachers each year, and have supported increased standards in teacher training by making funding dependent on the quality of provision."

The report suggests that schools should take on responsibility for training staff, but this would increase burdens on schools, the TDA said.

Stephen Crowne, chief executive of the schools technology agency Becta, said: "We have seen great improvements in the use of technology in schools in recent years, but technology is far from being a 'mainstay of schools'.

"Currently, less than a quarter of schools use technology really effectively to improve standards.

"Becta's continuing leadership, support services and guidance are needed to ensure that all learners benefit from technology."

A spokeswoman for the GTC said the report's authors appeared to have "misunderstood the GTC's legal remit and the purpose of having an independent regulatory body".

She said: "Registration with the GTC provides parents with the assurance that publicly-funded schools are employing fully qualified teachers of good standing. It is therefore completely illogical to suggest that membership should be voluntary."

Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, said: "To ignore investment in school leadership as schools take on more responsibility makes no sense.

"We have consistently addressed key leadership issues. Our National Leaders of Education are helping turn around many struggling schools and we are training school business managers to run school finances and improve efficiency."

Co-author 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."



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