John Bald, an independent educational consultant, and blogger says the axe should fall on the "training" run by the educational Quangocracy
New Labour, particularly Blair and his long-time head of policy, David Milliband, understood the cycles of democratic government well enough to see the need to use office to tie up opponents after they’d gone, and they have made a good job if it. The challenge for Conservatives is to see how and where they have inserted their agenda, separate this from the few areas where they have done well – such as improving educational support for children in care – and target cuts so that the agenda is stripped out.
This requires careful examination of the detail of spending – not just the headings under which it is spent, with officials’ recommendations – and then strategic decisions on what councils should and should not do. This is the basis of my proposal for a cut of around £7m in Cambridgeshire County Council’s education budget, which would remove the superstructure that is the legacy of Crosland and his leftist successors.
Michael Gove has set us a good example centrally by getting rid of the mega quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the General Teaching Council, which works well in Scotland, but in England has been used as a kangaroo court for whistleblowers, and the excesses of the school building programme, which set out to rebuild everything whether it needed it or not.
Strategic thinking locally is much more difficult, both because local government has to operate within structures that are centrally determined, and because local authority officers are not civil servants, but politicians in their own right with their own agenda. Take, for example, Hills Road Sixth Form College, one of the most successful educational institutions in the country, and hence a thorn in the flesh of the local Left. A few years ago, the local authority used some limitations on its site as a pretext to try to close it. They were stopped by skilled and stalwart defence on the part of the governors, led by their Chairman, a deputy head of a local secondary school and an Ofsted inspector, who knew how to fight them. There is a battle of wills to be won here, and evidence and professional skill are the ammunition.
The authority lost that one, but it wins most. In the early nineties, I was the only independent person to be awarded a contract to train teaching assistants – the rest went to local authorities and their associated colleges. I wrote a handbook on the skills the assistants needed for English, maths and improving behaviour, taught them to use computers, set up a system of tutorials for them in their own schools, based on work with their own children, obtained university accreditation, recruited a maths specialist and speech therapist, built up a small library and a small series of central courses, ran the whole thing from the computer I’d bought from Essex when they made me redundant, and delivered a good course for £450 a head all in, including audited accounts. Most of the others cost three times as much and some four times as much, as authorities had the cunning wheeze of adding at least a third to the real price to cover their overheads.
The ignocracy responded, first, by putting up my costs (eg by making me run needless meetings of a paid “steering group“) and then by cutting out competition completely by simply allocating all of the courses to the local authorities. Needless to say, these courses then provided an ideal vehicle for New Labour’s strategies and associated propaganda, as well as a nice source of influence for the local authority’s officers.
All of these courses could and should be cut, and responsibility for training assistants returned to schools – they could easily manage it, and probably at around 20 per cent of current costs. The same should happen to every single “training” course offered by local authorities, and the same principles should be applied to every single thing the authority does. Are they promoting education, or David Milliband’s idea of “equal opportunities”? This question needs to be asked again and again until councillors find the truth. And then they will know what to cut.