New quango to handle data red tape

A data compiling organisation has been launched by ministers to add to the list of education quangos created by Labour, this time in the name of reducing bureaucracy.

The Information Authority will be staffed by a full-time team of 10 - with an annual salary bill around pound;500,000 - under a board representing those in the post-16 education and training sector who demand data from colleges.

It stems from the 2005 Foster report's call for more coherence in FE. It will set standards for the collection of data from colleges and other training organisations in an attempt to reduce red tape. Its full budget has yet to be decided.

Its creation has prompted calls from Conservatives for a more fundamental reform of FE.

John Hayes, their FE spokesman, said: "This is like giving someone with a broken leg a wobbly crutch instead of mending the leg.

"Colleges need to move towards self-regulation. Of course, there are risks involved in this and proper checks are necessary, but the idea that you have to have this bureaucracy, including this new layer, is a massive assumption.

"Why should colleges be trapped in this Stalinist view of centralised control?"

Colleges were set free of local education authority control in 1993 but they have now become more administratively top heavy than schools and less free of Government control than universities, Mr Hayes says.

The Information Authority - described by one college insider as "not so much a quango as a committee of quangos" - is ministers' response to complaints from colleges and others, including work-based learning providers, that they are swamped with requests for data from a large number of organisations, including the Learning and Skills Council, the Adult Learning Inspectorate and awarding bodies. It will make them sign up to a protocol agreeing on how data will be collected, to avoid duplication and unwarranted paperwork.

Similar work is already carried out by the DfES's managing information across partnerships group, which was set up to "remove wasteful bureaucracy from post-14 learning". It says there will be no duplication between the two organisations' functions.

Bill Rammell, the further education minister, insists the new authority will mean college administrators can look forward to spending less time chasing paperwork. He said: "The creation of the Information Authority and the appointment of an independent chair play an important part in our commitment to simplify and streamline the way data is collected, shared and used across further education."

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