Editor's Comment

4th March 2005 at 00:00
The Victorians replaced the quill with the best steel-nibbed pens technology could provide. Now, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is bringing it back.

Who on earth in the bright ideas factory at the Department for Education and Skills thought QuILL was a suitable title for the sector's new quality-improvement body?

QuILL. It sounds like the name of a juvenile poetry society at a minor boys' public school. The last cultural use of quills in the Western world was as the title of a racy Hollywood film about the Marquis de Sade - a spanking little movie.

When staff at the Learning and Skills Development Agency heard that the new government-backed organisation - which they must help create - was to be called the Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning, a deafening groan came from the London HQ near Oxford Street. The sadists of Sanctuary Building had done their worst.

QuILL will be at the hub of an as yet little-spoken-of government plan to rationalise the market. Numerous agencies have overlapping duties to produce high-quality curriculum and support services. From the Basic Skills Agency and Becta to the Learning and Skills Council and various units at the DfES, there is a need to sort things out.

They are all involved in separate contracts for jobs, and one is never sure what another is doing. To the average lecturer, tutor and manager, there is only confusion in this crowded marketplace. Exactly who is in charge of setting the benchmarks of quality?

The new agency is to be proactive, not reactive. Its managers must advise ministers on what must be done. If they are to convince teachers and lecturers to make such changes, ministers must heed what they say. This is unlikely to lead to wholesale closure of other agencies, but it should lead to clearer definition of who is responsible for what.

The real test for Andrew Thomson, LSDA chief executive and the man in charge of setting up QuILL, will be just how good an improvement strategy he devises.

The agency always wanted official responsibility for this work, which is at the heart of much of what it does. Therefore, it is fitting that he should take charge of shaping the new organisation.

First, though, perhaps the collective mind of the LSDA should come up with a title for the new organisation that is better suited to the 21st century.

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