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Ministers rush to back superquango

Nicholas Pyke reports on the Government's favoured option of a single curriculum body the result of merging SCAA with NCVQ. The Government has come out in favour of a single new super-quango to deal with all educational curricula and certificates between the ages of five and 19.

Ministers have hurried out a consultation document backing a straightforward merger of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the smaller National Council for Vocational Qualifications.

They want the new body in place for September 1997, and hope to announce details in next autumn's Queen's Speech.

The new quango is to play a leading part in boosting the credibility of vocational qualifications, the central mission outlined by Sir Ron Dearing in his review of 16 to 19 qualifications published last month.

It must address a lamentable record: one-fifth of British school-leavers end up with no qualification, training place or job.

A joint exams body is at the heart of Sir Ron's "qualifications framework" which aims to present all major examinations as part of a single currency.

The consultation document presents two main options for merger. One is the straightforward joining of the two bodies favoured by the Government and, it is believed, Sir Ron Dearing The second is the creation of two new quangos: a school curriculum authority running up to the age of 16, and a qualifications authority dealing with examinations from 16 onwards. This is believed to have provoked the disapproval of deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine because it involves double the number of bodies.

Sir Ron originally suggested a third option - retaining a 16-19 body for vocational qualifications, but this has fallen by the wayside.

Although the first two options are both under consideration, the Government has made clear it favours the straight merger. The advantage of this, says the consultation document, is that it is simple; that it avoids overlaps and coordination problems; that it would be more cost effective, and would pool all the available talent.

However there is a major disadvantage in that a great deal of power would be concentrated in one, large body.

The benefit of the other option would be the creation of two bodies of a manageable size. However it would divide the GCSE from the rest of the curriculum before the age of 16. There could also be confusion, says the document, about the relative functions of the two bodies.

One point of interest is the warning it contains about a possible conflict of interest in the NCVQ which promotes its own qualifications as well as regulating standards.

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