Leading article: Why it's right to support Kelly

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The Independent Online

This week's media hounding of Ruth Kelly has been an unedifying sight. Today, she delivers her definitive statement on the row over teachers on the sex offenders register being allowed back into the classroom. It is worth making the point that she is not the only minister who has signed letters clearing offenders to teach again. Indeed, it is probably the case that virtually every Education Secretary over the past couple of decades is culpable and has allowed someone with a history of a sex offence back into the classroom.

Before anyone leaps to the conclusion that there is therefore something rotten in the Department for Education and Skills, consider this. Is it right that a teacher such as William Gibson, fined for indecent assault on a 15-year-old girl more than 20 years ago, whom he subsequently married and with whom he had three children, be barred from teaching for life? He admits he was wrong to form a relationship with an under-age girl, but he is adamant that he is no paedophile. His case would seem to be very different from that of a teacher who pays to access child pornography on the internet. The disparities between these cases highlights the fact that there are very difficult and different decisions to be made between individuals.

Therefore, unless there is new and startling evidence of Ruth Kelly's culpability for a serious error, those who believe that she should resign have not made a convincing case. She deserves the support she has been given by 10 Downing Street. If she survives as Education Secretary - and on balance, on this issue, we believe she should - she will then have to go on and tackle the equally hard task of steering Tony Blair's controversial school reforms through the House of Commons.

On that issue, she has so far proved far from persuasive. She should be given the green light by the Prime Minister to negotiate some kind of compromise with Labour rebels over school admissions.

The reforms would then have a chance of reaching the statute book. Giving her that freedom would mean giving her real support. And she needs that in spadefuls from Downing Street.

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