Leading Article: Two out of one does not go

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The Independent Online

The motivation behind the splitting of the old Department for Education and Skills into two was to provide joined-up government. It was essential that all children's services should be housed under one roof, Gordon Brown argued. And so the new Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) came into being. The word "education" disappeared from both titles. Education, however, would gain from having at least two ministers round the Cabinet table in future, it was argued.

In a report and in an evidence session earlier this week, the select committee shadowing the DCSF casts some doubt over whether this has been achieved. First, it points out that the DCSF has sole responsibility for children aged five to 13 while DIUS is responsible for those over 19. For young people between these two age bands there is a shared responsibility. This has been potentially devastating for the education of those aged 14 to 19 and the Government's flagship diploma.

Similarly, the plans for raising the education participation age to 18 could fall between two stools. The DCSF has countered that it has the lead responsibility for delivering the 14 to 19 curriculum – but that answer neglects several issues such as who is responsible for persuading higher education that the new diplomas are a legitimate university entry requirement and should be embraced.

Second, in an evidence session on the Government's plans to give priority to the needs of looked-after children, it emerged that – while schools and councils have a legal responsibility to liaise over provision – this does not extend to the health service. We heard health service professionals demand that performance indicators should apply to them as well as to others. So, it is all very well insisting that schools should give priority to children in care when deciding on admissions. But how useful is that if the emotional support has not been given to encourage vulnerable children into school in the first place? The Government needs to acknowledge that joined-up government is about more than producing a master plan and taking some action on the ground to eliminate overlap.

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