'I would have hit literacy targets'

17th December 2004 at 00:00
David Blunkett believes that he could have achieved the 2001 numeracy and literacy targets if he had remained as education secretary, according to an explosive biography of the home secretary who resigned this week.

The implied criticism of his immediate successor Estelle Morris - who resigned partly because of the failure to meet the key stage 2 targets - was made in the book. It also accused Charles Clarke, who has just taken over as Home Secretary, of "going soft" during his tenure at education.

The biography by Stephen Pollard is based on extensive interviews with Mr Blunkett, who resigned following accusations that he fast-tracked a visa for his former lover's nanny. It also reveals he regarded the largest two teaching unions with contempt.

In the book Mr Blunkett concedes that he underestimated the time it would take to meet the targets: 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standards in English and 75 per cent in maths.

But he goes on to say: "Had I remained in education, I would have really upped the ante on getting the literacy-numeracy target met. I still think it was possible."

Mrs Morris declined to comment.

Mr Blunkett also criticises his colleague Harriet Harman, who he called a "hypocrite" for sending her son to a grammar school and who he believed should have left the shadow cabinet in 1996 for doing so.

Mr Blunkett, who was education secretary between 1997 and 2001, revealed his attitude to the teacher unions to Mr Pollard. "The only teacher's union leader for whom he had any time was Peter Smith, leader of the more moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, who was seen as interested in talking rather than oppositional strutting," the book says.

Nigel de Gruchy, former National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers general secretary, said: "He has a bit of a cheek to say that. In view of recent events I don't really trust his view of people."

The book says that Mr Blunkett saw Chris Woodhead, the controversial former chief inspector of schools, as "a liability and too much of a loose cannon" and that he was only kept on when Labour took power in 1997 because of support from Number 10 Downing Street.

Mr Blunkett was determined that Mr Woodhead's contract should not be renewed in 1998 but lost out in an internal battle with Andrew Adonis, then the Prime Minister's education adviser, apparently prompting him to go "ballistic". The book quotes a close adviser to Mr Blunkett saying: "I have never heard him swear so much. 'What is the bloody point of my being here?'

he screamed. 'Who is the Education Secretary, me or Andrew Adonis?'"

But it notes that on many issues such as city academies, which Mr Blunkett championed, he was at one with Mr Adonis.

It reveals that the early, controversial "naming and shaming" of schools policy, was designed deliberately "to engineer a row of some kind" to seize the headlines when Labour took power.

The public threat to close 18 failing schools was made by Mr Blunkett but was apparently the idea of Stephen Byers, the then schools minister.

The book quotes an adviser as saying that Department for Education officials "absolutely hated it" because it "went against everything they believed".

Mr Byers was also behind the introduction of education action zones in a push for LEA reform which apparently met some resistance from Mr Blunkett.

The book claims that it was the same junior minister's lack of enthusiasm for the General Teaching Council that led to reserved seats being given to the unions whose influence it had been supposed to balance.

Opinion 15, Book of the week 27

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