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New stats service would surely add up

For years, successive education ministers have heard a constant refrain from teachers, parents and local authorities: reduce central government bureaucracy and free up teachers' time to teach. So it is depressing to read some of the reactions to the first really significant move in that direction for many years, as we consult on our draft proposals to review the output of the Government's statistical service.

It is vital to realise what this consultation is about, and what it is not about.

First, we are not proposing to abandon the collection of statistics that really matter - information on school buildings, school-leaver destinations, post-appeal exam results and absences. What we are suggesting is a repackaging of these important groups of data into a format that would be much more accessible, which would make more sense and which would provide a more rounded picture of what is going on in education.

Second, we are proposing to remove the duplication in relation to statistics on issues such as school expenditure, pre-appeal exam results and exclusions. This information is already published elsewhere or in a more meaningful way, for example through our in-depth behaviour survey.

Third, we propose to stop publishing data that is collected in very different ways by local authorities. This becomes meaningless at a national level and tells us little about what is actually happening in education. Statistics on placing requests and school meals, for example, fall into this category.

If schools and local authorities choose to continue to collect certain information locally, then that is their choice. As Education Secretary, I have a duty to do what I can at a national level to reduce burdens imposed on schools by central government, and I will carry it out. Parents would expect nothing less in these difficult times.

Filling in forms can never be as important as teaching children and, if there is any tension between funding the two activities, we must be absolutely resolute in preferring the latter to the former.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh.

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