Monday, 2 July 2007

Doing the Splits in the Education Ministry

Few government departments can have had quite so many changes as the English education ministry. For twenty years it was merely the Ministry of Education, until its 1964 rebirth as the Department of Education and Science. Then, it lost science, forcing universities to court two masters for their research budgets. In 1995, it merged with the old Department of Employment to create the Department for Education and Employment. This meant, for example, that childcare and nursery education were under the same roof (though it took rather longer for the responsible civil servants to work together). In 2001, much of the employment brief was diverted to the new Department of Work and Pensions, but childcare and skills survived in the Department for Education and Skills. At least there was no further name change when children's services were added to the DfES's responsibilities in 2003.

Now one of Gordon Brown's first acts is to split the department in two: creating the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills . But, to what purpose? There are in Ed Balls and John Denham, two able cabinet ministers. Ian Watmore will be an excellent permanent secretary at DIUS. And science is back at one of the new ministries. But, as Mike Baker points out here: "With one parent giving each its undivided attention, there may be some gains. But where does that leave the middle child, known as Further Education? The answer seems to be: caught in the middle of a complicated custody battle, spending some time in each parent's home."

Surely Mike is not right to suggest also that it is merely a ploy to concentrate more control of education at no. 10?

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