Education is in Balls' court

6th July 2007 at 01:00
He was dubbed the most powerful unelected person in Britain as Brown's right hand man. Now he is one of the most powerful ministers

WHEN ED BALLS was still at school, his mother once said at a parents' evening that she despaired at the thought of him going into politics.

Graham Lewin, the teacher listening to her concerns, recounts that the problem was Labour's desperate electoral fortunes. In the mid 1980s, Margaret Thatcher's Falklands-inspired landslide made another Labour victory seem a very long way off, he told The TES.

Now, as her son begins his role as the first Children, Schools and Families Secretary and with a fourth successive Labour government looking increasingly possible, Mrs Balls can rest easy.

Once dubbed the "most powerful unelected person in Britain", Ed Balls, 40, now rules over a huge social policy empire and can justly be described as one of the country's most powerful elected figures.

The father-of-three's rise to the top can be traced back to 1992 when the Oxford graduate wrote a Fabian Society pamphlet advocating an independent Bank of England, which grabbed Gordon Brown's attention. The shadow chancellor invited the then Financial Times leader writer to moonlight, helping him devise Labour's new economic policy. In February 1994, aged 28, he took a big pay cut to work for Mr Brown full time.

In that same year, he gained early notoriety after penning the phrase "post neo-classical endogenous growth theory" for a Brown speech, prompting Michael Heseltine's jibe: "It's not Brown's, its Balls."

It was a minor setback for a young gun at the centre of New Labour's formidable Treasury pow-erbase. In 1997 his plans for the Bank of England became reality.

Mr Balls first studied economics at Nottingham high, where he was a straight A pupil, also achieving top grades in A-level history and English. Mr Lewin, his tutor from the age of 11 to 18, remembers an "all rounder" who could equally have followed his father, a zoologist who taught at Nottingham University, into the sciences and who also excelled at sport.

He was only one of many extremely able pupils attending the independent, selective boys' school. "It was his enthusiasm and the use of his talent that would have singled him out, rather than some academic ability," said Mr Lewin. "He wasn't at all slow to put forward his views." A report from his A-level economics teacher gives a similar impression: "Very enthusiastic, hard working and argumentative a fine combination."

He was also a popular student. Mr Lewin called him "a likeable character, the sort who could get away with things because of his nice smile".

Not that he has had much to get away with during a hugely successful career so far. In 2005, after more than a decade as Mr Brown's right-hand man, he was elected MP for Normanton in West Yorkshire, next to Pontefract and Castleford, represented by his wife, Yvette Cooper.

As housing minister, she has just been given the right to attend Cabinet meetings, so they will be the first couple to able sit together at the famous table.

But it is Mr Balls' new brief that will probably excite him most. He may be widely tipped as a future Chancellor, but he has spent many months quietly working on children's policy and is understood to have asked for his new role. Perhaps not surprising for a devoted father, known to share the school run with his high-flying wife.

Brown shake-up, FE Focus, page 3

Ed Balls

Born: Norwich, February 25, 1967

School: Nottingham high

Degrees: BA in philosophy, politics and economics from Keble College, Oxford. Masters in public administration from Harvard

Previous ministerial post: economic secretary to the Treasury, May 06-June 07

Outside interests: music, supporting Norwich City football club, cooking and playing football with his three children, aged three, six and eight

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