Ministers to be held to performance targets

Warwick Mansell

YOU can almost hear the chorus of "about time, too" resounding from staffrooms across the country. Yes, you read it here first: ministers are about to get their very own set of performance targets.

That is the tantalising prospect being dangled in front of TES readers this week by the Commons Education Select Committee.

For the first time in its 22-year history, the all-party committee of backbench MPs is pledging to subject every education minister to detailed annual assessments of achievement.

Over the next two months, all six ministers, starting with Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, are to be hauled before the committee one by one and asked to set out their goals for the coming Parliament.

The committee is then promising to bring them back every year to see how they measure up against these objectives. It will then publish a report on their performance.

The move is the latest sign of post-election restlessness among Labour backbenchers, keen to assert the independence of Parliament against what many see as an over-powerful executive.

In recent years, the committee has held specific inquiries, ranging from the role of the private sector in education to early-years provision. It also calls in the chief inspector of schools twice a year for an investigation of his work. But it has yet to subject ministers to regular scrutiny of their responsibilities.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: "Ministers are very fond of putting other people on the rack in terms of performance review. It's about time they were put on the spot more properly."

And what condign punishment will the committee be able to mete out to failing ministers? Alas, the worst they can expect is publication of their deeds, or otherwise, in a report. Mr Sheerman said that the ministers themselves would do most of the target-setting. The committee's job would be to report on their progress.

MPs are not proposing skills tests for would-be members of government. Nor is performance-related pay for ministers on the cards. Neither will it be possible to compile league tables of ministers' performance from the reports. Oh well. From small acorns...

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Warwick Mansell

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