2012/3 14 April 2012 Policy Watch – The changing education landscape Introduction

No great fanfares but four new contours have appeared in the education landscape this month in the form of three new Executive Agencies and one new universal careers support service.

Why more changes?
This latest bout of furniture moving comes as part of the Government’s long-term project of slimming down the number of intermediary agencies or quangos in the pursuit of greater efficiency, greater transparency and greater accountability. The rationale for this was spelt out in a landmark speech by David Cameron in July 2009 and the chase was quickly taken up a year later by the incoming Coalition in the form of a Cabinet Office review. This identified something in the order of 900 such bodies which it resolved to slim down by scrapping 190 of them and merging or reforming a number of others.
Not all of this has been aimed at the world of education of course although some notable bodies have already been laid to rest here including BECTA, QCDA, the GTC and RDAs. Nor has it all been plain sailing, a large chunk of the intended initial £2.6bn admin savings has come from the closure of just two bodies and as the National Audit Office reported earlier this year, estimates of overall savings remain “imprecise” but the project is beginning to reshape the education landscape as these latest changes indicate.
This is how the current changes shape up.

New Executive Agencies
For those less familiar with the term, Executive Agencies differ from quangos, or non-dept public bodies to give them their standard term, in that they sit within a Government Dept and are answerable through the Minister concerned to Parliament; it means they operate more closely in accordance with Government policy. Quangos, by contrast, are independent of Ministers being answerable to their own Board.
The three new Executive Agencies that came into operation at the start of this month, emerge from the ashes of seven separate previous bodies and are based in the DfE. They join one that started last autumn and each will carry out important functions for the Dept as follows:

The Standards and Testing Agency (STA.)

This began operating last October picking up responsibility from QCDA for assessment and testing in England through from early years to Key Stage 3. This remains an area under particular scrutiny and intensity and has been the subject of a number of reviews recently including notably those by Lord Bew on Key Stage testing and Dame Tickell on early years assessment both of which are reflected in the Agency’s work programme
The Agency’s remit is built around the need to ensure effective delivery of a national assessment and testing system and while it will work within the current policy framework in developing and implementing this, it will retain independence over standard setting
The Education Funding Agency (EFA.) This formally came into operation at the start of the month bringing together into one body two previous Agency operations in the form of the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) and Partnerships for Schools (PfS.) The new Agency means it will have responsibility for a budget currently totalling £50bn covering capital and revenue funding across maintained schools, Academies of all types, Free Schools, UTCs, Studio Schools and Sixth form Colleges, in effect majority provision up to the age of 19 and, for those with learning disabilities, up to the age of 25

Overall funding policy remains the preserve of Ministers and is currently under review with changes to school funding now not likely to come in before the next Spending Review round. For the present, the Agency will continue to manage funding allocations, distribute funding through the Dedicated Schools Grant and Pupil Premium, and ensure compliance and regularity generally

The National College for School Leadership.

The National College, which has been in existence for some time as a non-dept public body also became an Executive Agency at the start of this month. The change is more one in status than activity as the College will continue to lead on some of the key developments on school leadership set out in the 2010 White Paper. This is an important aspect of current school reform policy evidenced for example by the introduction of new professional standards this autumn and the development of the Teaching School model where the National College has an important role

The Teaching Agency.

This Agency, which also started this month, brings together the work of 4 previous bodies including the General Teaching Council and the Training and Development Agency. Its primary responsibility will be to ensure the supply, quality and regulation of the workforce which means it will cover teachers, teaching assistants, exams officers, special needs co-ordinators, educational psychologists and childcare workers. On the issue of professional misconduct which has been the subject of some debate, the Agency will organise Professional Conduct Panels, refer necessary cases to the Secretary of State and maintain a register of prohibited workers

New universal National Careers Service

This was also launched at the start of the month under the banner of ‘The Right Advice at the Right Time.’ The shift towards what will eventually become a universal careers guidance and advice service has not been without its critics especially in the schools sector where the concern has been about a possible reduction in face-to-face advice just at a time when a flat labour market is making life difficult for young people.
The issue with schools has arisen from a change in responsibility that was included in last year’s Education Act and is due to come in from this September. It places a duty on schools to secure access to careers guidance but leaves it up to them as to how best to approach this. It could include face-to-face guidance but equally as the latest Dept guidance indicates, could include a number of other sources such as from employers, from private providers and through the National Careers Service. At present the duty embraces years 9 – 11 but the Government is considering extending this to other year groups. By ensuring that all providers of careers guidance work to defined ‘matrix’ standards, by enshrining in legislation the requirement for advice to be presented in an impartial manner and in the best interests of the learner and by encouraging wider sourcing of the local labour market, the hope is that this will ensure a more responsive, market attuned model. Either way, Ofsted will be carrying out a review of such provision and will report back in the summer of 2013.

As for the new service as a whole, it will offer a range of services from face-to-face guidance, to help with C.V.s, to Skills Health Checks to online and telephone advice. It will be offered through a range of outlets including colleges, Job Centres, libraries and its own dedicated premises. In terms of capacity, it is expected to be able to handle up to a million telephone advice sessions and up to 700,00 face-to-face advice sessions for adults a year. As a service, it builds on the Next Step model that has been running for nearly two years and will be supported by an independent National Council along with a range of other mechanism such as the Growing Ambitions free information service and the business backed Youth Inspiration Project.

Steve Besley

Head of Policy (UK and International)
Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning

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