From education to employment

Quangos Re-considered, by IVA chief Lawrence Miles

David Collins’ recent piece on quangos, For Richer, for Poorer, begs the question that if the Government has to cut spending, would it be best to cut the number of people in LSC, DIUS etc and trust establishments to get on with it? The obvious repost is, that if everyone is like those in Westminster then we cannot trust anyone. However, and this may surprise some politicians, some of us can be trusted to toil unshackled by the bureaucracy of agencies and councils.

As Sir Mick might have crooned, "You don’t always get the quango you want, you don’t always get the quango you need." Usually you get the quango you get. If that succeeds or if that fails you get two or perhaps three others to replace it. All a world away from the promised "Bonfire of the quangos" called for by a former Shadow Chancellor in 1995.

These are wretched times to be a Chief Executive, amongst other commitments, of one of these unaccountable and largely unseen bodies that collectively spend over £100 billion of our money a year so let us faintly praise those we have had, and in some cases, still have and question other.

I liked QIA, set up to raise FE’s game. Did no harm, even saved £23 million in year one. That put them out of step so they were soon merged, against the quango trend, with another body.

Becta, the government agency that leads the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology through learning surely ticks many of the boxes with its clear ambition to utilise the benefits of technology to create a more exciting, rewarding and successful experience for learners, enabling them to achieve their potential. Becta folk are informed, helpful, influential and able to get across their key message: "Technology has the potential to transform learning."

What about a little praise for LSC, as astronomers would say, "now in its late red sun period". Didn’t it achieve great things? More people entering education? Yes. More learners leaving with a certificate? Yes. Didn’t the learning providers they passed the cash to get to know what was wanted of them and settle into quality-assured delivery? Yes. The three new bodies: the Young People’s Learning Agency, the National Apprenticeship Service and the Skills Funding Agency will have the unenviable task of wheel reinvention in a time of debt pandemic.

What about something new like a National Examining Body. We could get rid of those dozens of self-serving awarding bodies with their infuriatingly different and pricey qualifications. It would work well with an Independent Examination Regulator. Curriculum responsibilities would probably work better inside the relevant Government departments like DCSF and DIUS. Politicians only meddle with the curriculum anyway.

One I don’t get the point of is the Teacher Training Agency which cost over half a billion pounds a year. What’s that all about?

But let’s keep The Potato Council with its politically incorrect National Chip Week. It only costs £6 million a year and its objectives are clearly dear to the hearts of the majority of our learners.

Lawrence Miles is Chief Officer of the Independent Organisation for Verifiers & Assessors (IVA)


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