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 Are the VECs a waste of money?

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PostSubject: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:21 pm

As most people reading this will know, the VECs' remit is to administer all the vocational schools, colleges and education centres. Every county in Ireland has their own version of this particular quango. Many are highly inefficient buraucracies - operationally distant from the educational and practical considerations of the schools they are supposed to serve. At a stroke the government could save itself b/millions by devolving the management functions of the VECs to the schools/colleges/education centres themselves. Attached to the VECs are huge, cumbersome committees (mostly local councillors so far as I can make out) all of whom cost a fortune in expenses for travelling to and attending meetings to very little avail. The committees are singularly failing to hold the VECs to account for how they do what they do.

The VECs could be replaced with a single, well-staffed unit at the Department of Education who could draw up management guidelines (finance/operations/HR policy/educational) for schools to follow. A lot of the day to day administrative stuff (staff recruitment, preparation of financial statements etc) could be devloved to the schools/centres themselves - who in many instances are severely hampered by inexcusable delays and downright incompetence by their local VEC in any case. In fact the VECs have already delegated responsibility for much of this donkey work to the schools. Many VEC staff (who operate from central locations and most of whom rarely if ever even set foot in a centre, school or college) are shockingly ignorant of the needs of the schools and have no understanding of- or sympathy for - how their decisions can be disastrous for the people they affect. They frequently make bizarre, arbitrary and often costly decisions and seldom consult schools before changing rules or guidelines. Some VECs function better than others but they would be the exception rather than the rule. If they are to continue, they should at the very least be required to make a damned good case for themselves. As a starting point, the government could conduct an anonymous audit of VECs nationwide - asking school/centre/college principals to rate their VEC across a range of criteria.

What do others think?
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PostSubject: Re: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 8:40 pm

My limited experience of VEC's is that they can operate in a frighteningly amateur fashion. A VEC I have come across, for example, uses the same professional consultants year in year out without going to tender. They just accept whatever fee invoices are sent to them and pay up. They don't know that you have to draw up a brief before taking a consultant on, and if they did they wouldn't know how to do it.
I have also seen VECs allowing very damaging disputes between/with staff drag on without resolution for years, with awful damage to the education being provided to the pupils.

I think having everything centred in Dublin would be even more remote. A regional approach might be the best.
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PostSubject: Re: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:03 pm

I'm a little familiar with the organisation and though the roots and intentions are healthy, overall they are like black holes into which money disappears I'd say. The levels of bureaucracy are Kafka-esque with yep, commitees galore and bodies everywhere. You might be working in ten classes but you'd be paid by three different crowds - sometimes it's hard to know who your boss is scratch While I was there they seemed to be more paranoid about my paperwork than my performance.

I'd reckon they should be streamlined across the country; each county branch seems to be a little kingdom in itself staffed by loads of Chiefs who of course perform their duties with the utmost dedication to their vocation of providing vocational education to the community. When a community need arises it seems another body gets created in order to manage that need - these committees are like funguses or mushroomsn that spring up around you before you know it.

I believe Youthreach should be a seperate branch altogether but it might be half under the VECs and half under the HSE - the classes are run in VEC property but the HSE pay the staff - some of the staff. This is a logistical thing though and mixes up the original intention of the VECs - as Technical and Vocational schools (whose functions are now more often done by community schools) with some of the functions of the HSE, namely child psychiatry. What kind of a fucking mess is that !! The psychiatry budget of the HSE is 25% of the overall budget, 3% of that is for child psychiatry ... and some of that is getting swept into the carpets of the VECs...

There are other remits of the VECs which are better done by dedicated organisations - Adult Education with NALA for folks who have literacy difficulties - again a serious problem with, it is believed, upto 25% of people with some degree of illiteracy .. I usually bang on about fixing all the water pipes in the country by 2050 but one in four people with literacy difficulties ... mother of jesus in this day and age - why don't we have a national programme to address this seriously with serious reviews etc. They often rely on volunteers to tutor people.

What about genuine adult Ed, night classes, ESOL for migrants to this country - all these things are somehow bound up with the VECs. And yes, for every tutor there is often someone hounding you for a form to file away in a drawer. Why don't they fuck out the form-off-the-tutor-and-put-it-in-a-drawer hounders and let the tutor fill out their own shagging forms and file them away ourselves - we're big and ugly enough.


Last edited by Auditor #9 on Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:07 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : put more bile in last sentence)
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PostSubject: Re: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:38 pm

Your experience is not atypical, sadly, CF. Another aspect of their remit that needs urgent attention is how they manage their capital budgets. Some education centres I know of are operating out of buildings that are scarcely more than sheds while money bleeds out of the VEC for other capital schemes. There doesn't seem to be any sense of priority or value for money.

Re centralisation, I agree there would be some disadvantage but maybe not as much as you might think: the schools/centres themselves, if properly and rigorously advised would benefit greatly from more autonomy than they currently have -and it would save loads of valuable time and money as well. I know principals who are hugely frustrated that they cannot optimise the worth of their budgets because of rules imposed on them by their local VECs that are incredibly stupid. That's not to say that they should be unaccountable. Like all other public bodies they should be required to submit annual reports and accounts according to stringently upheld guidelines and policies. That said, I agree some regional management would be very important - there is a vast difference in the needs of, say, inner city vocational education centres and rural centres - so local input would be vital. Some regions are sort of hybrid. Four major regional centres would be plenty but no efficiencies or improved competence stand any chance of being achieved unless or until the schools/colleges/centres have a vastly greater say in how the administration should serve them rather than the other way around. Some VEC staff seem to think the schools and education centres are incidental - their existence little more than some sort of nuisance justification for their own jobs. They act like shopkeepers who resent the necessity for customers. On the other hand, and a kind of opposite consequence of the same lack of decent oversight, the sort of thing that can be equally problematic is the failure to implement professional standards of managemet. This is where the amateur nature of the VECs really stands out. I know of one education centre where the principal is married to the secretary. Between them, they are responsible for recording the centre finances - and there has been more than one funny-peculiar event arising from that state of affairs. They have just advertised for a more or less full-time geography teacher and, whaddya know, their daughter just happens to be one. (Geography would be a very unusual subject to be in such high demand in the sort of setting in question.) The daughter has already been working there for a few years on an ad hoc basis but it will not surprise anyone to hear that she has been appointed to the job. This state of affairs simply would not be allowed to happen in the UK. And yet the relevant VEC carries on blithely as if there was nothing amiss. It's extraordinary.
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PostSubject: Re: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:45 pm

Aragon wrote:
Your experience is not atypical, sadly, CF. Another aspect of their remit that needs urgent attention is how they manage their capital budgets. Some education centres I know of are operating out of buildings that are scarcely more than sheds while money bleeds out of the VEC for other capital schemes. There doesn't seem to be any sense of priority or value for money.

Re centralisation, I agree there would be some disadvantage but maybe not as much as you might think: the schools/centres themselves, if properly and rigorously advised would benefit greatly from more autonomy than they currently have -and it would save loads of valuable time and money as well. I know principals who are hugely frustrated that they cannot optimise the worth of their budgets because of rules imposed on them by their local VECs that are incredibly stupid. That's not to say that they should be unaccountable. Like all other public bodies they should be required to submit annual reports and accounts according to stringently upheld guidelines and policies. That said, I agree some regional management would be very important - there is a vast difference in the needs of, say, inner city vocational education centres and rural centres - so local input would be vital. Some regions are sort of hybrid. Four major regional centres would be plenty but no efficiencies or improved competence stand any chance of being achieved unless or until the schools/colleges/centres have a vastly greater say in how the administration should serve them rather than the other way around. Some VEC staff seem to think the schools and education centres are incidental - their existence little more than some sort of nuisance justification for their own jobs. They act like shopkeepers who resent the necessity for customers. On the other hand, and a kind of opposite consequence of the same lack of decent oversight, the sort of thing that can be equally problematic is the failure to implement professional standards of managemet. This is where the amateur nature of the VECs really stands out. I know of one education centre where the principal is married to the secretary. Between them, they are responsible for recording the centre finances - and there has been more than one funny-peculiar event arising from that state of affairs. They have just advertised for a more or less full-time geography teacher and, whaddya know, their daughter just happens to be one. (Geography would be a very unusual subject to be in such high demand in the sort of setting in question.) The daughter has already been working there for a few years on an ad hoc basis but it will not surprise anyone to hear that she has been appointed to the job. This state of affairs simply would not be allowed to happen in the UK. And yet the relevant VEC carries on blithely as if there was nothing amiss. It's extraordinary.

I think that in Ireland, HR and building management could be dealt with at regional level. The Department of Ed should be small and should deal with policy and standards only - they should not imo be involved in day to day running of schools that they would never get to see.
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PostSubject: Re: Are the VECs a waste of money?   Wed Oct 22, 2008 10:58 pm

Absolutely - the mind boggles at the extent of interaction the Dept of Education demands of schools. In my secondary school there used to be a secretary whose sole remit was correspondence with the Department - what a waste of 35k! That was until they installed things like automatic tag in to school so that they could free her workload to doing other things.
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