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Estelle Morris, MP, Education Secretary
Estelle Morris, MP, Education Secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: ESTELLE MORRIS MP EDUCATION SECRETARY FEBRUARY 10TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: The government is to make sweeping changes to the schools curriculum in England, school pupils from the age of 14 will be able to drop some academic studies in favour of new vocational subjects. From September students will be able to choose six new GCSEs as well. The move is part of plans designed to end what ministers have called snobbery and prejudice against vocational education. Estelle Morris, Estelle's here now, good morning Estelle.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: Basically this is the basis of this upcoming revelation is as we said there, isn't it, is to make vocational exams have the same status as academic exams?

ESTELLE MORRIS: That's right, we're one of the few countries in the world where that doesn't happen. I think it's generally agreed that everybody respects the A level and we've got really good academic qualifications and as a nation we should be proud of that, I certainly am. But we should be a bit ashamed of the fact that our vocational qualifications are just not respected in the same way and the result of that is that too many children leave school at 16. I think more importantly than that they don't reach their potential, they miss out, their skills aren't developed and at the end of the day our nation needs vocational skills just as much as it needs academic skills.

DAVID FROST: So there'll be six vocational GCSEs will there?

ESTELLE MORRIS: That's what we're trying to begin with, we're piloting them this year and then they'll be available from this September for all the students and they're in subjects like information technology, manufacturing, science, sort of the real core of what, what the economy actually needs. But the important thing is they've got status, they've earnt their right to be GCSEs and if we can offer a qualification in vocational subjects that's equivalent to the qualification in academic subjects I think we might get rid of this historic failure to really value vocational subjects.

DAVID FROST: And one of the things is that at the age of 14 children are going to be allowed to cut down on the compulsory subjects and just, and just do English, maths and computing, allowed to drop foreign languages at 14?

ESTELLE MORRIS: Well I think if you look at modern foreign languages we don't do it very well, do we? Year after year we've got fewer students staying on to A levels and to degree level so I'd like to do something different about modern foreign languages and I'll be talking more about that in the week. But if you think, I think primary education is so much improved now and if we get those early years of secondary right so that by 14 children have had that broad education, can't we then to say look we want now a curriculum that's tailored to your needs and I'm afraid what we do at the moment, we make them all go through the same subjects, plough through the same furrows no matter what their strengths are and as a result some switch off you know, some get disaffected, they start behaving badly and then they drop out of education at 16 and that's what I want to change, I want to be able to say to 14-year-olds there is flexibility in the curriculum and whatever your strengths are, whether it be academic, vocational or both I want a school system that will give them the chance to progress. We've never had it and this is really, really important I think for the whole country.

DAVID FROST: Yeah I see, I see the reason for that, at the same time people, critics have pointed out that we'll be about the only nation in Europe that doesn't insist on foreign languages until 16?

ESTELLE MORRIS: Well don't forget we're probably the only nation in Europe that doesn't teach foreign languages in primary education, what we do at the moment is we start at 11 and we finish at 16 and a lot of children are just dropping out at 14. And look at where we are at the moment, we have not got a good international reputation for teaching modern foreign languages and I don't just want to go on doing more of the same, I want to take a fresh look at it and see if we can't teach our children throughout all of the education system modern foreign languages better than we're doing at the moment.

DAVID FROST: And there's a story today in the paper that, about you, nice picture, new super A level aimed at star pupils, that sounds like an interesting idea?

ESTELLE MORRIS: Well it is, I think our children are performing at a higher level than they've ever done before because the quality of teaching's better and that's good, we should be really pleased about it. What we've got now is about 20 per cent of A level grades or one at A, that's increased in the last decade and I'd like an A level system that keeps the goals standard so that we can measure year-on-year how well our children are doing.

DAVID FROST: So they will get.

ESTELLE MORRIS: But I'd like to put that extra demand in for our most able students.

DAVID FROST: So if they succeed they'll get an A star as it were?

ESTELLE MORRIS: We'll talk about that a bit more, we want to consult on it, but I most want to do is that extra challenge for our most able students. All the time in education we're looking to put the extra challenge in for our highest achieving students and we're looking to closing the achievement gap for our under-achieving students. So can you see how the vocational work gives chances to those who've switched off but at the same time we want to promote excellence at A level.

DAVID FROST: But it, is the A star thing because some people say that the A levels have got easier?

ESTELLE MORRIS: No you know we all have this hang up in this country don't we, every time our children do better because our teachers are teaching more effectively we say it cannot possibly be that our children are as bright as children anywhere else in the world, we must have made the exam easier, don't do it to them, they work hard and they deserve our credit. But as standards rise I think as children reach a higher level, I just want to put that extra challenge, give them an extra hurdle to overcome and so I want to look at the A levels, I want to both keep the standard but put that extra challenge in as well and we'll be talking a little bit more about that later in the week.

DAVID FROST: And Amy Gearing you said that memorable quote about her, about the fact that they should have acted, her firm.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Yes.

DAVID FROST: Should have acted, that's as clear as anything, Time Plan but they, they've come back, Time Plan have come back with two defences of their position one of which I'm sure you've seen in this telephone log where they say that one of their workers, Chris King called a misconduct unit at the department within one hour of being alerted to the allegations himself, he didn't note down the name but we can't really say with any certainty that that conversation was not about this subject, I don't know what else it would have been about.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Well it, I, that's not true, we had no notification of this until well after the second offence but I asked this question of Time Plan, if it was so serious that they phoned us within an hour, which they didn't, why didn't they take her out of school, why did they leave her in the school┐

DAVID FROST: Right, but doesn't this prove they did call you?

ESTELLE MORRIS: There's no, I tell you what we've met with Time Plan on a number of occasions now.

DAVID FROST: Yes.

ESTELLE MORRIS: I did a round of interviews on Tuesday, no one's ever produced that before, the truth is that they had a letter from Social Services that said do not put this woman back in school, by then they'd already put her back in school and they left her there. It's their responsibility, they're employers and they had a clear legal responsibility. Look don't try to squeeze out of it, it would be better spending their time checking their systems and make sure that they never, ever make that mistake again.

DAVID FROST: But they also say that you knew and your department say they knew in November 2000, which was before the last set of alleged offences?

ESTELLE MORRIS: No it's not true, the only notification we had was not from Time Plan, it was a letter from the police about the first incident which had not been taken to court. Now I'd read that letter myself and what the police said is no further action will be taken, there's no court case and we immediately started procedures, we didn't know about the second incident until well after the police had started procedures. Look they have a responsibility for, for parents it's really important that they understand that measures were in place. Time Plan were told not to put her in school, they did and they shouldn't have done.

DAVID FROST: We, one other important fact, and this reflects on, you know, extra supply teachers and so on, is the figure from Mike Tomlinson this week, that 20 per cent of teachers are leaving the profession within three years of entering it, what can you do about that?

ESTELLE MORRIS: By the way on that, many come back, I mean many of the profession are women teachers and many leave to have a career break, to have a family, so when we lose them after three years they do actually come back, so we keep 80 per cent and many will come back in the years to come. It is a challenge, I've always said that, it's really strange the teacher figures at the moment, we've got more teachers than we've ever had for a generation, we've got more going in than we've had for almost a decade but we've got this vacancy rate and I know I've got a responsibility to improve retention and one of the things I want to look at is workload because you know at the start of the interview we were talking about how standards have got better and that's because we ask more of our teachers and I know I've got a responsibility to let them concentrate on teaching and I'm busy working with teacher's representatives in the profession at the moment to see if we can take some of the other tasks off them, the marking, the exam vigilation, all those things that don't really need those talents.

DAVID FROST: And have you decided what you're going to do about tuition fees?

ESTELLE MORRIS: Well we'll announce in due course, the figures this year by the way, for students going to university are very pleasing, 5.5 per cent up, so there's a feeling sometimes around that our youngsters aren't going to university, they are but we did say that we'd look at that balance and in the not too distant future we'll, we'll tell everybody what we're, what we're putting forward.

END


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