New faces take over reform agenda

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Tensions within the Department for Education and Employment are likely to ease with this week's reshuffling of the ministerial team.

The school reforms driven by Stephen Byers, now chief secretary to the Treasury, are to be implemented by two ministers not as closely associated with the Blair project.

The promotion of Estelle Morris to the standards brief and the appointment of Charles Clarke, the former chief of staff in Neil Kinnock's office, as education junior minister shifts the political balance of the team away from the modernisers.

David Blunkett, who as expected remains Education and Employment Secretary, is likely to have pressed for Ms Morris to be appointed his lieutenant. As junior minister, she has avoided the limelight, but gained the trust of senior figures in education.

His other senior minister, Andrew Smith, keeps his post of responsibility for parts of the Government's welfare-to-work programme.

There had been speculation Mr Smith would be replaced by Harriet Harman, but the job has already effectivel y been downgraded with the removal of much of the work to the Treasury.

The arrival in Government of Margaret Hodge, a Blairite, who is unfairly cast as one of Tony's cronies because he used to live in her street in Islington, should mean greater attention to the need to develop childcare policies across departments.

Tessa Blackstone, the higher education minister, has managed to hang on to her job despite criticism of her role in introducin g student tuition fees.

For the future, there may be changes in style - Mr Blunkett prefers to talk in terms of partnerships with local education authorities and less about zero tolerance.

The absence of Mr Byers from the education department may reduce the influence of Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools.

The decision on whether Mr Woodhead stays for another five years is due shortly. He is nearing the final 12 months of his contract.

However, much of the key policies dealing with failing schools and the new role for local authorities is in place.

The toughest problem that still has to be solved is devising a pay structure that rewards effective teachers and encourages new recruits.

Teachers may take the view Ms Morris, with her personal experience of the classroom, is likely to be sympathetic.

The reality, though, is that Mr Byers, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury,will be able to exert his influence on any scheme that involves the payroll of such a large section of the public sector.

According to Ms Morris at this week's conference of the Professional Association of Teachers, education may have lost a minister, but it now has a friend in the Treasury. "You can rest assured that David Blunkett and I will be reminding him of that," the new minister said.

The problem with friends in the Treasury is that they know more about you than you would like.

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