Extra charisma from the Tories;Profile;Theresa May

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Frances Rafferty profiles Theresa May, the new shadow education secretary, and tipped as a future Conservative leader

THERESA May, the newly-appointed shadow education secretary, usually leaves her audiences satisfied, even those not normally sympathetic to the Conservative party.

Her knowledge of education has won her respect and within her own party she is seen as a rising star, despite only becoming an MP at the last election.

Last week, she told councillors and officials at the Conference of Local Education Authorities that the Tories were their friend and Labour was the enemy.

Speaking to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, she warmed them up with a mildly risque joke about a virgin bride who had been married to three MPs, and then criticised the Government for its bureaucracy, finishing her speech with the union's own slogan of "Let teachers teach".

She takes over from David Willetts, who has moved sideways to social security. Mr Willetts famously has two brains, but little charisma in public. Mrs May may hope to make up this deficit.

She will be continuing the Tory line of attack on the amount of bureaucracy surrounding many of the Government's initiatives and the level of prescription from the Department for Education and Employment.

She said: "We need to raise the image of the teaching profession and allow sufficient flexibility at the local level to allow teachers to exercise their professional judgment. Teachers felt they were under siege and thought it would be lifted on May 1, 1997, but that didn't happen."

She said the proposed General Teaching Council should have more powers over who can join the profession and the standards within it.

She is concerned the literacy hour is too prescriptive, and fears that it and the numeracy hour concentrate too much on a narrow group of pupils, and could lower attainment overall. Her other concern is Labour's pre-school policy.

"The issue is what age pupils are brought into a formal structure of learning. If it is too early, children may feel themselves under pressure and will not find their first experience of the education system an enjoyable one," she said.

Mrs May is described in Andrew Roth's Parliamentary Profiles as a "very bright, witty articulate new eager beaver; a right-wing Eurosceptic who is a darling of the Tory Whips for her willingness to repeat, with some freshness, propaganda lines against Labour legislation".

She was educated at Wheatley Park comprehensive and St Hugh's, Oxford, went on to a career in banking and was chair of education in the London borough of Merton. She won her spurs, soon after becoming an MP, on the committee overseeing the Standards and Framework Act and was made an education spokesman. Pauline Latham, chairman of the Grant-Maintained Schools Advisory Committee, has tipped her as a possible leader of the party.

Her deputy on the new Tory education team is Tim Boswell, a former education minister. He resumes the higher and further education brief he held previously. Mr Boswell, a gentleman farmer, is a popular figure with an easy manner.

Former opposition home affairs spokesman and barrister, James Clappison, will hold the schools' brief. Roth's guide describes him as a "Lloyd's 'name' with inherited wealth; strongly addicted to naive, super-loyal stooge questions".

John Bercow is taking care of employment, but the Buckinghamshire MP will continue with his interest in grammar schools. The energetic MP, on the right of his party, is known for his combative style; his constant bobbing up and down in the Commons caused one political sketch writer to ponder on the size of his thigh muscles.

Mr Bercow is an ex-Federation of Conservative Students activist, was the secretary of the Monday Club's immigration and repatriation committee, and was deputy leader of the Conservative group of the London borough of Lambeth.

Early years row, 10

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