Teenage pregnancy quango to be axed

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
The group was set up to help the Labour government meet a target of halving teenage pregnancies

A body set up to advise ministers on teenage pregnancies is among five education quangos being axed.

The Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group is being scrapped, together with the board of Teachers TV.

Becta, which promotes technology, the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency are closing.

But the govenment has thrown a possible lifeline to a body which advises on school support staff pay.

And it has confirmed the School Food Trust will no longer be a quango (a body set up to do work on behalf of the government).

A document leaked last month had said the School Support Staff Negotiating Body should be abolished.

But on the official list released on Thursday, the organisation is listed as "still under review".

Trade union Unison, which represents many school support staff, had said it would consult on industrial action if the organisation was scrapped.

The body had been working on a national framework for pay and conditions to cover about 500,000 school support staff in England, including teaching assistants, school secretaries, caretakers and nursery nurses.

The School Food Trust - set up after the campaign for better school meals by TV chef Jamie Oliver - will no longer be funded by the Department for Education, as suggested by the leaked document.

Its status is being changed so that it will continue as a charity but also set up a separate "community interest company".

Officials say this will mean it can sell its services to public bodies, ploughing its profits back into the organisation.

It might might get grants - or even some regular funding - from the government, but this would be dependent on the Comprehensive Spending Review, officials say.

They say some of the work of the teenage pregnancy body might be taken on directly by the government, possibly by the Department for Health.

The Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group was set up in 2000 to advise the government on how to cut teenage pregnancy and ensure teenage parents continued with their education.

Group chair Gill Frances said: "TPIAG was set up for a fixed term of 10 years and has reached the end of its tenure. In that time we have seen a reduction in teenage pregnancy rates but the work must remain a priority, both nationally and locally otherwise figures will inevitably go up".

In total, the coalition government inherited 17 quangos covering education and children's services.

A total of 14 have now been scrapped, changed or are under threat.

The government has announced it is scrapping a total of 192 quangos and is merging another 118.

Eight of those funded by the Department for Education are still "under review". They are:

  • The Office of the Children's Commissioner
  • School Support Staff Negotiating Body
  • National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services
  • Partnership for Schools
  • Children's Workforce Development Council
  • Training and Development Agency for Schools
  • Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
  • Young People's Learning Agency

The Education Secretary Michael Gove had already announced the closure of three quangos: Becta - whose role was to promote the best use of technology in schools; the General Teaching Council for England - the professional body for teachers - and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, which develops the school curriculum and runs national tests for England (Sats).

Those which are being kept are:

  • Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual)
  • Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
  • School Teachers Review Body
  • School Food Trust (remaining as a charity with the potential to become a community interest company)

Mr Gove said there had been a "proliferation" of arms length public bodies in recent years and that had reduced government accountability.

"These organisations are expensive and by removing responsibility from ministers and handing it to unelected officials they reduce accountability," he said.

"These organisations have done much valuable work, but I believe there are too many of them.

"If we are to see a genuine improvement in standards in our schools it won't be delivered by people at the centre, it will have to be driven by school leaders and teachers at the front line. And where there are functions that need to be done at the national level they should be properly accountable through ministers - unless there are compelling reasons why they cannot be."

School Food Trust Chairman, Rob Rees, said: "We have been working closely with the government to develop a realistic and achievable plan to build upon the improvements in school food which have taken place in recent years.

"We are confident that our new status as a Community Interest Company and charity means we will be able to work with everyone involved in children's food and drink to inspire improvements in food and education and give our young people a great start in life."

Another quango whose future is unclear is the Student Loan Company, which runs the student support system for the government.

Officials say proposals on the organisation's future will be made in the White Paper on higher education to be published by the end of the year.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "While not every quango is perfect, axing or reviewing practically all of them is not the answer. Michael Gove's justification of putting school leaders and teachers back in control of school improvements simply does not stand up.

"Having expert bodies looking into issues such as teenage pregnancy are not wasteful luxuries but provide an important source of information and support for schools."

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