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Coalition speak – busting the new Labour jargon

August 27, 2010

Over on Community Care for Community Care magazine I’ve written this piece on Coalition speak:

“The US educator Kingman Brewer once said that “incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession”. So it is for social work in the eyes of the new coalition government, as revealed by a leaked memo from civil servants which gives 30 “translations” of “New Labour” lingo into coalition chat.   

The state is no longer to be spoken of. Where Margaret Thatcher told us there is no such thing as society, David Cameron’s team want us to talk about society rather than the state, or more precisely: the Big Society. In this brave new world civil servants are encouraged to “empower” change rather than “lead” change.  

Taking the lead in empowering us is the surprisingly colourful secretary of state for education, Michael Gove. He wasted no time in renaming the old Department for Children, Schools and Families and removing the rainbow logo favoured by Labour.
Is all this just politics – letting everyone know that there is a new Sheriff in town – or does it signals policy change?

Take, for example, the replacement of the term Every Child Matters with the term “helping children achieve more”. As this is only one of the five outcomes are we to guess that the other four are being dropped as priorities?   

There are other clues too, “targeted services” are to be “fairer services”. Seems sensible, but to whom are the services fairer? “Targets and outcomes” are now “results and impact”. If this signals the reduction of targets, something the new government is committed to, then it will be welcome by practitioners, but the question remains of what “results” will be valued, and how “impact” will be measured.     

Some of the proposed changes seem pointless: “delivery” is now “implementation”; “narrowing the gap” is now “closing the gap”. The “children’s workforce self-assessment framework” is now a “local area self-assessment tool”. And instead of “continuity” we should talk of “predictability”.     

Other changes are common sense. The public haven’t got a clue when we talk about safeguarding, so I agree with Michael Gove that we should talk about “child protection”, but we also must recognise the importance of safeguarding vulnerable adults. “Integrated working” is not an impenetrable piece of jargon, but saying “working together” is more meaningful.
Sometimes jargon can be useful as a shorthand for describing something new or innovative, such as family intervention projects, a term now banned by Gove.  

This jargon-busting will create some confusion and policy blight, but that may be Gove’s purpose. I leave you with Kingman Brewer again, who said “if I take refuge in ambiguity, I assure you that it’s quite conscious.”

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