Shhh... Every Child Matters lives on

Ravi Chandiramani
Monday, August 9, 2010

Watch out, the language police are about. An internal Department for Education memo lists 30 terms the government wants consigned to history, and the words that should be used in their place. Many relate directly to children's services.

Some of it is utterly pointless. Like the replacement of "narrow the gap" with "close the gap", or "delivery" with "implementation". "Integrated working" is out but "people working together to provide better services" (so integrated working, then) is in. Why use two words when seven will do? Perhaps the age of austerity doesn't apply to words.

But despite initial appearances, this is no silly-season story. The list goes beyond phrases that became tedious jargon under the previous administration. It includes the pillars of recent children's policy, namely Every Child Matters (ECM) and the five outcomes, and children's trusts. To this government, these terms clearly reek too strongly of Labour, while ECM in particular speaks of a grand project that is anathema to the coalition's thinking.

Education Secretary Michael Gove repeated his (consistently unsubstantiated) view that the ECM agenda is a "massive bureaucratic superstructure" when taking questions from the education select committee as parliament broke up for summer recess. He did also say: "I've got no problems with Every Child Matters as a list, but I do think it's important that we recognise it should be policed in a hands-off way." A bar on use of the term in government is a bit more than "hands-off".

That said, parts of the ECM agenda have been bureaucratic and counter-productive. But the five outcomes have achieved genuine buy-in and given a common purpose, a "framework of guiding principles" if you like - which is incidentally one of the phrases that are now "in" to replace "processes and guidance".

But where collaboration works well at local level for the benefit of the young, ECM and children's trusts, which have been the tools of the trade for children and young people's services, will continue in both spirit and in practice. A government that denounces top-down direction from the centre cannot justifiably interfere here - even if it does insist that its civil servants no longer use the terms that have become entrenched with meaning and purpose for many people on the ground. This won't be the last time you hear the phrase Every Child Matters on these pages, either.

Ravi Chandiramani, editor, Children & Young People Now

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