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Editor's comment

Do colleges and training companies really need another quango or agency to oversee improvements? There is already the Learning and Skills Council, the Learning and Skills Development Agency, the Department for Education and Skills Standards Unit, two inspectorates, more than 100 awarding bodies, the emerging sector skills councils, the Centre for Excellence in Leadership...and so on.

So, news of a new Improvement Agency by 2006 was bound to trigger weary sighs.

Sir Andrew Foster, in his end-of-first-year report as the Government's post-16 bureaucracy tsar, is scathing about the proliferation of civil servants and official scrutiny bodies. The existence of so many people and groups helps to promote bad, indecisive management since it takes responsibility and decision-making away from front-line staff, he says. His concerns are echoed by the departing LSC chairman Bryan Sanderson.

Sir Andrew said: "What is needed is a further injection of leadership, strategy, staff motivation and trust, alongside funding linked to strategy and performance management."

The trouble is that, among the numerous bodies, no one organisation has clear responsibility for all these issues. In fact, there are no clear demarcation lines defining who is responsible for what.

The answer, says Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, is to create a new Improvement Agency with these duties clearly spelled out. Such a body should have the respect of the whole sector, civil servants and ministers .

On this occasion, he is right to create a new body or, rather, to reform one of the existing organisations to take on this role. There are three advantage to using the LSDA. First, it is respected by government though distant from it. Second, it identifies with and understands the sector.

Third, it avoids the need to create yet another agency or quango.

The main responsibilities of the new agency will be to get government off the providers' backs by improving the quality of learning to such an extent that politicians can leave teachers, trainers and managers to it.

But if this is really going to work, there has to be a ruthless stripping away of such responsibilities from all the other bodies, including the LSC.

Once that is done, the Secretary of State must trust the LSDA to get on with the job without interference.


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