All power to a joined-up future

6th July 2007 at 01:00
Gordon Brown began his premiership emphasising his passion for education. Now, the new Prime Minister is proving he has the vision to translate his rhetoric beyond the sound-bite of his predecessor.

Splitting the Department for Education and Skills is a bold statement of intent. The new Department for Children, Schools and Families has no control of higher education, skills and the adult side of further education, and does not even have education in its title.

But, in reality, it will be more powerful than any previous department running schools. Its responsibility for all aspects of children and family welfare means it is the "new Treasury" which Alan Johnson, the outgoing Education Secretary, told us to expect a social policy super-ministry with power stretching into eight other departments.

The DCSF echoes local authority mergers of education and children's social services departments, which have already recognised that dividing children's policy into silos does not work. Now, nearly four years after Every Child Matters was published, Whitehall has finally caught up.

Any suggestion that taking a broader view of children could lead to the Government taking its eye off the need to raise standards in schools is misplaced. Teachers on the frontline know that only too well. So often they find themselves acting as proxy social workers, dealing with everything from family break-ups to drug abuse, poor diet and anti-social behaviour.

A school-aged child or young person spends most of their waking lives outside the classroom. What goes on in that time affects their performance in school for good or ill. Having a department that understands this and has the policy levers to make a difference in these wider areas can only be to the good.

Another welcome aspect of Mr Brown's reshuffle is the new Children, Schools and Families Secretary himself. Ed Balls has been Mr Brown's closest political confidant for more than a decade and will continue to exert huge influence across government. Putting him in charge says more about Mr Brown's passion for education than anything else.

The one fly in the ointment is further education, which once again finds itself as the Cinderella sector split between two departments. Real joined-up government will be the key both to overcoming this and to achieving Mr Balls's aim of seeing "children in the round". We wish him well.

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