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Exam chief slams 'wish-list' waste

QCA chairman condemns an ill-conceived jigsaw of initiatives as a pointless extravagance. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

Ministers are wasting millions of pounds of public money on duplicate organisations, pointless conferences and strategies that are no more than wish-lists, the chairman of the Government's exams watchdog has said.

Sir Anthony Greener condemned the disjointed initiatives and lack of vision of the Department for Education and Skills.

In his new year lecture to the Learning and Skills Development Agency, Sir Anthony called on the Government to slaughter some sacred cows to end the waste.

The chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said he was shocked by "the number of overlappping organisations fishing in the same pond funded in part or wholly by public money".

And he was horrified by the deluge of glossy reports on his desk and invitations to conferences whose deliberations led nowhere.

As for government strategies for 14 to 19, further education and primary schools, they were just a series of wish-lists and not really strategies at all.

An overview of reform was missing, he said. The string of initiatives were "like different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that do not fit together". "The part that is missing is the part that really matters - the overview that covers the whole education landscape and pulls together the whole strategy from three to 90," he said.

"Surely such a strategic overview would connect all educational needs, describing pathways for developing the diverse talents of everyone in the communityI from business executive to farm worker."

The attack from Sir Anthony, former chairman of the food and drinks giant Diageo, comes as the Government is about to appoint him as a permanent successor to Sir William Stubbs.

Sir Anthony has been acting QCAchairman since Sir William was sacked in the wake of the A-level grades fiasco in 2002.

The Government's strategies, lacked clear definition of who was responsible and accountable for delivery.

"I ask you," he said, "who is responsible? Who holds the budget? And whose job is on the line. Please don't answer 'ministers'.

"In my experience, if there is no singular responsibility clearly identified and accepted, there is zero likelihood of significant achievement."

Sir Anthony said that a lack of clarity and direction had resulted in a "substantial waste of public money".

He told the conference: "We tried to find out how many educational conferences and large meetings there are each year in the UK. The answer is many thousands. The QCA alone hosts a chunk of them.

"No one we asked at the DfES could tell us how many they organise. Who goes to these conferences and who reads these treaties? And much more importantly does anyone ever act on them?"

Sir Anthony also criticised the existing qualifications system, saying it did not allow learners to develop their talents or meet their personal aspirations.

"We have some 3,000 qualifications for skills with very little to link them together," he said.

"In France and Germany the number is between 20 and 30.

"Our so-called national qualifications framework is not a framework. At present it is merely a list of qualifications."

He went on to argue that any adequate qualifications framework must be market-led and should reflect "what learners and their employers want rather than what agencies and institutions are prepared to fund or provide".

Sir Anthony also called for more money to be pumped directly into schools.

He said: "We live in a time of very tight availability of resources. It is frankly irresponsible of us not to seek ways to free up additional funds to directly benefit the learner.

"Some of this must come from the overdue slaughter of some of the sacred cows I have identified, through the elimination of duplication and overlap and applying the acid test of direct benefit to the learner.

"This will take a new and very purposeful leadership from the DfES and ministers in the face of the equally purposeful rearguard actions that can confidently - and regrettably - be expected."

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