'Supermum' proves to be less popular as a minister

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The future of Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, will still be on the line if she survives the furore over people on the sex offenders register being allowed to teach, and an imminent cabinet reshuffle.

As one teachers' leader put it: "She's not convincing and if she doesn't convince teachers, I suspect she doesn't convince parents either."

Ms Kelly's problems began almost immediately after she took office.

She had been ushered in with a fanfare of publicity hailing her as a "supermum" with four children, promoted to become the youngest minister in the Cabinet at the age of 36. But she suffered an early setback when her links with Opus Dei, the secretive Catholic organisation, were revealed. Some feared its hardline stance on moral issues could place her in a dilemma over decisions on how to deliver sex education in schools.

Further doubt set in when she announced that the Government was jettisoning the major recommendation of the inquiry by the former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson into exam reform, that the existing GCSE and A-level system should be replaced by an overarching diploma covering both academic and vocational qualifications. The education world had rarely been as united about a reform as it was about this one. But Tony Blair was worried about the prospect of going into an election defending a policy of scrapping A-levels so that was the song his protégée had to sing.

Next she was jeered by normally respectful state school headteachers when she told the conference of the Secondary Heads Association they should listen more to the views of parents.

She was just celebrating her first 100 days in office with a well-received speech at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference (in which she backed teachers who wanted to sue their schools over not being given the time off they were due) when Hilary Bills, the incoming president of Britain's biggest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, labelled her "the worst education secretary since 1997". Mrs Bills, a primary teacher from the West Midlands, said that she did not come across as well-briefed and appeared patronising.

There was much speculation about whether Ms Kelly would be reshuffled if Labour won the May election. She survived but with Mr Blair's right-hand man on education, Lord Adonis, splendidly nicknamed "Tony Zoffis" (as in Tony's office), as a junior minister. His appointment, observers said, was likely to create tensions in her team.

Since then, Ms Kelly has been wrapped in the preparations for the Government's controversial White Paper on schools reform. (Wrapped is possibly the right word since senior civil servants complain they cannot get access to her - and have to deal with her army of special advisers instead. Some say it is a sure sign she lacks confidence.)

The likelihood is that Tony Blair, who has let it be known that he has "full confidence" in her, will want to keep her in office until the reforms have either passed into legislation or been defeated. If they are defeated, that could be curtains for her. If they become law, a reshuffle to another post could be on the cards.

As one source said: "I don't think the position she was given was right - it was too high-profile a post".

Comments