David Blunkett came up with a surprise response when asked at a recent meeting who he considered to have been the best education secretary: his Conservative political foe, Kenneth Baker. "He did a really good piece of work introducing local management of schools," the former Labour education secretary said. "There were a whole range of policies in 1997 that I picked up on rather than just overturned."
Lord Baker is, of course, still active in the education world and is best known for his advocacy of University Technical Colleges, which aim to give 14 to 19-year-olds a first-class vocational alternative to academic study.
Mr Blunkett, who was speaking at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference – which represents 250 of the most elite private schools – also bemoaned the fact that many of his successors during Labour's 13 years in power after 1997 were not given enough time in office to develop in their brief. He himself lasted for the full period of a Parliament – in contrast to his successors. "You just get to the point where you know what you're doing," he said, "and then nobody wants you to do it." The same criticism, he said, could be made of most ministerial positions.
Mr Blunkett also said he favoured the setting up of a government fund that would allow state schools to buy into expertise in the private sector that they were unable to tap into.
He cited in particular the teaching of the classics and Latin, where state schools often find it difficult to attract teachers. Later, at the same meeting, he also singled out dance and music as areas where the private sector could help out by providing services. He said he regretted not devoting more resources to developing state/private sector links during his period of office.
It may be true that, just when they have got their feet under the table, ministers are shuffled on (perhaps because of fears that they will "go native"), but Mr Blunkett's comments and Lord Baker's continuing involvement with the sector show that their successors would do well to keep listening to them, even when they have moved on.Reuse content