Targets take too much cash

When New Labour came to power in 1997, it tied radical education reforms to tough targets. Initially, they were welcomed for the extra cash they brought. But excessive reliance on targets is now distorting the curriculum and has led to a costly mountain of bureaucracy.

Ministers have pledged to relax the reins and cut red tape. Messages following Chancellor Gordon Brown's three-year spending review last week were all about "the best leading the rest", rewards for excellence, help for under-achieving schools and colleges, and greater freedom to plan.

But are ministers really letting go? Not according to the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Task Force, charged with cutting government-imposed bureaucracy. As its report this week shows (see p25), one bureaucracy is being replaced by another. Despite moves to cut the workload for headteachers, the report says, "our bureaucracy-busting had been quickly filled by new burdens".

In colleges, wholesale reforms were supposed to bring big bureaucracy cuts. "We found little sign that this is happening," the report says.

This was a golden opportunity for ministers to tackle a range of problems - such as lecturers, who lag 12 per cent behind school teachers. The TES Cut Red Tape in Colleges campaign last autumn showed that colleges spent pound;220 million a year on bureaucracy - much of the money wasted. A quarter of this - by coincidence the amount ministers have pledged to cut - would close the pay gap by 2005.

The Education Secretary agonised about the pay gap and the need to boost FE spending, then promptly raised core funding of schools by 3.5 per cent and of colleges by just 1 per cent. The rest of the cash for colleges will be tied yet again to "tough new targets" creating more of the bureaucracy that is diverting cash from where it is needed most.

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