Here come the cuts

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Quangos first in line for the chop as Government shows its determination to get to grips with pound;163bn deficit

Schools are bracing themselves for the biggest education cuts in a generation, expected to begin early next week with a cull of quangos.

Becta, the agency for ICT in education, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) are thought to head the queue for the chop.

The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has committed itself to finding pound;6 billion of cuts in this year's 201011 spending as a "down-payment" on reducing the UK's pound;163 billion deficit.

Legislation is expected to be used to abolish the agencies and a bill is likely to be announced in Tuesday's Queen's speech.

Teachers' leaders have warned that the potential cuts are leading to "anxiety" in schools.

But the government has insisted the reductions, to be announced by David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on Monday will be confined to "wasteful spending".

Mr Laws, the former Lib Dem schools spokesman, said: "We can make these cuts while protecting the quality of key frontline services."

But school spending as a whole is no longer ring-fenced and the newly named Department for Education (DfE) may be expected to take its share of the pain.

Cutting some of the many education quangos will help to save the department money in the long term.

The previous Labour government had already planned to slash pound;45 million from Becta's pound;112.5 million annual budget over the next two years.

The agency argues its work to promote the effective use of technology helps to save money for the education system as a whole. But that may not be enough save it.

The worst is also expected at the QCDA. Prime Minister David Cameron said last July that the agency "must go" and former chief executive, Andrew Hall, has already jumped ship to the safety of an exam board.

The TES understands that a meeting last week saw QCDA staff told not to communicate with the outside world on anything other than regulatory matters.

The agency only officially came into being last month on April Fools Day, the same day as the Young People's Learning Agency which is also expected to be on the hit list.

Set up to fund all education and training for 16-19 year-olds, the YPLA also handles funding for academies.

So with academy numbers expected to expand exponentially under the new Government a new way of funding them would have to be quickly identified.

The QCDA has three roles. The first, developing the national curriculum, was already undermined when Labour took away its control over the new primary curriculum.

The new administration is likely to bring its own curriculum review in- house to the DfE.

And the agency's role in reforming qualifications would probably be diminished anyway because of the Conservative's intention to get higher education more involved.

The QCDA's other role - administering national tests - could be transferred reasonably easily, as the current testing contract with Edexcel ends this year.

But any immediate savings they produce may be wiped out by the cost of staff redundancies.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes as times get tougher, more and more heads will opt for the change.

"Schools and college leaders are extremely anxious about the future funding situation," Dr Dunford said. "They will already be making economies to ease the pain facing them in 201112.

"They will be examining the Queen's Speech both for signs of early cuts and for the expenditure of any funds on government projects, which could reduce the size of the pot distributed to institutions."

A QCDA spokesman said: "We work hard to support teachers in offering the best education to young people and are therefore valued by schools, colleges and employers.

"Whatever the future direction of education policy, our experience and expertise mean we are well placed to support the new government."

Becta chief executive, Stephen Crowne, said: "Becta's role is to serve the Government of the day, and we look forward to discussing our future contribution with ministers."

Meeting last week saw QCDA staff told not to communicate with the outside world on anything other than regulatory matters.

The agency only officially came into being last month on April Fool's Day, the same day as the Young People's Learning Agency, (YPLA) which is also expected to be on the hit list.

Set up to fund all education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds, the YPLA also handles funding for academies.

So with academy numbers expected to expand exponentially under the new Government, a new way of funding them would have to be quickly identified.

The QCDA has three roles. The first, developing the national curriculum, was already undermined when Labour took away its control over the new primary curriculum.

The new administration is likely to bring its own curriculum review in- house to the DfE.

And the agency's role in reforming qualifications would probably be diminished anyway because of the Conservatives' intention to increase involvement by higher education.

The QCDA's other role - administering national tests - could be transferred reasonably easily, as the current testing contract with Edexcel ends this year.

But any immediate savings from abolishing the agencies may be wiped out by the cost of staff redundancies.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "School and college leaders are extremely anxious about the future funding situation."

"They will be examining the Queen's Speech both for signs of early cuts and for the expenditure of any funds on government projects, which could reduce the size of the pot distributed to institutions."

Becta chief executive Stephen Crowne said: "Becta's role is to serve the Government of the day, and we look forward to discussing our future contribution with ministers."

A QCDA spokesman said: "We work hard to support teachers in offering the best education to young people and are therefore valued by schools, colleges and employers.

"Whatever the future direction of education policy, our experience and expertise mean we are well placed to support the new Government."

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