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Curriculum watchdog in budget struggle

England's curriculum and exams regulator is facing swingeing cuts just as it attempts to prepare schools and colleges for their busiest period of change for years.

Senior executives at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have held urgent meetings over the past 10 days over budget reductions. The authority needs to cut pound;10 million from its annual budget of around pound;130 million by April.

Last year, the QCA was ordered by Ruth Kelly, the then education secretary, to cut at least pound;15 million from its pound;145 million budget, as part of a drive to reduce costs across Whitehall. The authority sought to cut staff numbers from 667 to 400.

However, The TES understands that the numbers have not been reduced to anything like that degree. There were 497 members of staff this spring, according to the authority's annual accounts.

In the past two years, the QCA has drawn up plans for a new secondary curriculum, the introduction of the new diplomas and restructured A-levels.

It is also preparing to move from its headquarters in Mayfair, west London, to Coventry in 2009, as part of budget reductions across the public sector.

The QCA is also facing major structural change, after ministers recently announced plans to hive off its regulatory functions to a new body that will report to Parliament. The independent regulator may need a large staff in order to answer questions such as whether GCSE and A-level standards are being maintained. Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, has, however, pledged extra money for the new body.

John Bangs, head of education for the National Union of Teachers, said schools could be concerned that the QCA might be left less able to monitor the quality of national test marking and exams regulation.

Last week, The TES revealed how national testing, which is part of the QCA's budget, will cost pound;50 million in the coming academic year.

A QCA spokesman said: "It is important for all public bodies to make any efficiency savings that are possible. There have been a number of those over the last two years, but all our key areas of business have continued, and will continue to be delivered."

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