'David is brilliant but I am not David'

15th June 2001 at 01:00
Estelle Morris is determined to put her personal stamp on the top job. Will Blair and Brown let her? Judith Judd reports.

SO will we notice the difference? Estelle Morris, David Blunkett's former deputy and successor, has been wondering about that herself. But, fan though she is of the man who backed her enthusiastically for his job, she is convinced that the the time has come for a new agenda.

"David is brilliant but I am not David. I am very fond of him and worked with him closely. We want to carry on the focus on standards, the pragmatic approach. Now we have performance-related pay in place, we can make the next four years slightly different. Having achieved that accountability, we can work in partnership with teachers.We can stop looking over our shoulders."

Education, she implies, may be moving into a new phase. She expects there will be more differentiation between schools: much greater freedom for the successful and continued close scrutiny and support for the struggling. The Government appears to have taken to heart the criticisms that its prescriptive attitude has squeezed the creativity out of teaching. "We want to give good schools more freedom. We want to put the fun and creativity back and we want them to be innovators for our next round of reforms."

Other changes are already in train. The decision to give schools minister Stephen Timms responsibility for pupils aged 14 to 19 shows her determination to bring a new coherence to this stage of schooling.

On some issues, however, the mix will be much as before. Mr Blunkett said that he would resign if literacy and numeracy targets for 11-year-olds were not met by 2002. Will she? She replies: "Maybe I can say that with more confidence than David. We are nearly there."

She is firm over what she calls "the bottom line" for younger secondary pupils. Teachers have to accept that standards at key stage 3 must rise. To complaints that the KS3 strategy is too prescriptive, she replies:"If we are prescribing what makes an effective teacher, we are basing that on what we have learnt from teachers. If you are a professional you always want to use the latest evidence and research. If teachers want to call it prescriptive, OK. I call it professional."

She is equally robust about businesses running schools for profit. She has no problem with firms doing this provided that they are accountable to the public.

Recruitment, she acknowledges, remains a big challenge. She also shares Mr Blunkett's reget that ministers have not done more for morale. "I wish the morale of teachers were higher - of course I do. We have the best generation of teachers ever. What drives me mad is that when a minister says we can do better, the profession takes it as a kick at them."

It is too early, she says, to talk about the likely outcome of the current review into teachers' workload but she does comment: "I've always been conscious that primary teachers don't have much non-contact time."

One of the abiding images of the election is of Gordon Brown answering a question directed at Estelle about the low profile of women in Labour's campaign. Will she be a pushover for Messrs Blair and Brown? She says that women tend to be more collaborative and less confrontational than men. "But if I think I am right, I won't be pushed around."

Opinion, 25


Born: June 17 1952 in Manchester.

Family: Daughter of Rt Hon Charles Morris and niece of Lord (Alf) Morris, both former Labour ministers.

Education: Whalley Range High (then a grammar), Manchester. Gained seven O-levels but failed A-levels in English and French; B Ed (University of Warwick).

1974-1992: PE and humanities teacher, then head of sixth-form studies at Sidney Stringer school, Coventry.

1979-91: councillor, Warwick District Council

1992-: Birmingham Yardley MP

1994-1995: Opposition whip

1995-7: Opposition spokeswoman on education

1997-8: parliamentary under secretary for schools

1998-2001: school standards minister

2001-: Education Secretary

WHAT SHE HAS SAID- Quotes from the new Education Secretary...

"Teaching is one of the finest and most important professions" - often "I don't think it's the mark of a profession to campaign for a 35-hour working week" - to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference, Jersey, April 2001 "I must be the only minister in history who has come to a conference and been heckled for offering teachers a pay rise." - on hostile reception by the NUT after she defended performance pay "Come on, it's a golden time. We have the best-trained recruits and best bunch of teachers we've ever had."

- to National Association of Head Teachers conference, Harrogate, June 2001 "I spent 25 years trying to get over it (failing her A-levels). Now everyone's reminding me... I probably didn't work hard enough... I never settled in secondary school."

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