Editor's comment

28th September 2007 at 01:00
There is nothing as disliked, in educational circles or elsewhere, as bureaucracy or red tape. And there is nothing more endearing than pledges to "declutter the landscape". The conclusions of the Crerar review of public audit and inspection, calling for an ambitious reduction in the burdens of external scrutiny, will, therefore, receive a warm welcome in many quarters. This is understandable, and predictable that directors of education and schools should want to see less of HMIE.

It is, of course, overkill to have 43 bodies scrutinising the performance of public agencies in a country of five million people. But this is not their fault: ministers and parliament have been busy planting on the "cluttered landscape" and sometimes, particularly in the case of high-profile failures, they are responding to media and public pressures to be seen to be "doing something". Pressure groups, too, fly their own flags which is why, for example, we have the Commissioner for Children and Young People among the 43. Scrutiny bodies are also forced to take on new responsibilities, almost without anyone noticing, which is why HMIE's costs appear to have gone through the roof.

In Professor Crerar's much-quoted description, any changes to the system have to be "proportionate". The benefits of reform have to outweigh the risks of embracing them. It is one thing to streamline the activities of inspectorial busybodies, but quite another to sweep up those activities into the arms of a single super-quango which will have to call on the services of experts in any case: shall we call them school inspectors?

The proof of the pudding Professor Crerar wants us to digest will have to await the eating. What none of the critics will want is to see a light at the end of the tunnel only to discover it is another train hurtling towards them.

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