Labour activists to step up attacks on school reforms

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Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, will be under attack on a different front this weekend as she faces angry Labour Party activists to defend Tony Blair's plans for reforming the state school system.

Politically, the 38-year-old cabinet minister survived yesterday's crisis, when she was called to the Commons to explain why a man whose name is on the sex offenders register had been allowed to work in a state school.

The Government front bench in the Commons was packed with junior ministers who turned out in a show of support for the Education Secretary.

Two cabinet ministers, the Commons Leader, Geoff Hoon, and Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, also turned out. Afterwards even Labour MPs who were deeply critical of Ms Kelly's schools policy said it would be wrong if she were forced out of office over a crisis that began when police spotted Paul Reeve, whom they had arrested for downloading child pornography, working as a PE teacher.

This weekend, Ms Kelly will be at Labour's annual national policy forum in Nottingham to defend proposed school reforms, which have stirred up opposition in the party far wider than the usual rebels. Anxious officials have been sending a "consultation toolkit" to every constituency Labour party, requesting they generate support for the plans.

The former leader Lord Kinnock has described them as "at best a distraction and at worst dangerous" in his first major criticism of Tony Blair in 12 years. Fiona Millar, the partner of the Prime Minister's former communications director Alastair Campbell, has co-authored a report criticising them, which will be published next week. Hundreds of copies of another document criticising the plans, written by former ministers including the former education secretary Estelle Morris, are to be circulated at the policy forum.

One of its authors, Angela Eagle, said yesterday: "The policy forum cannot change the Education Bill, but if they express the worries that are felt throughout the party, then they will only be doing their duty."

Another former minister said: "Ruth Kelly is in very deep trouble because she had not built up a political base. She came in 1997, and was off straight away having children and being a minister, which means that she didn't take time to get to know anyone. You can't blame her for that, but it means that now she has got no friends. She is just being used to put through school reforms that aren't hers. They're Tony Blair's."