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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Cabinet revolt?
On Sunday 23 October 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Education

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Ruth Kelly MP
Ruth Kelly MP, Secretary of State for Education

ANDREW MARR: Since Labour came to power the school system has been targeted by no fewer than eight Acts of Parliament, three White Papers, five Green Papers and indeed four Secretaries of State.

Now the latest of them, Ruth Kelly, is at it again with a White Paper coming out on Tuesday, which has already, we read, caused tensions in the Cabinet and, we're told, suggests the bussing of pupils to change the social mix of schools.

Ruth Kelly, welcome this morning.

RUTH KELLY: Thank you Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Can I just start off with the bussing question, because it's already caused huge controversy and comment days and days before the White Paper itself comes out. Is it true that you've proposed bussing children from tough estates to better schools, and presumably visa versa?

RUTH KELLY: No. And there's been a huge amount of nonsense written about this to be quite honest. What we are about is trying to raise aspiration across the system.

RUTH KELLY: So that "no" will shock a lot of people who've been writing these stories and no doubt reading them.

RUTH KELLY: It's amazing where these stories come from to be honest Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: So there is no suggestion that you're going to make it, you're going to provide free transport for people from one area to take them to schools in another area?

RUTH KELLY: Let me tell you what we are trying to do. And that is to raise aspiration across every pupil in our school system so that they and their families make the choices that are right for them.

Now, if you're talking about groups of children who really have no tradition of thinking properly about which schools they might go to, who are put off by transport costs, about considering the options that may be right to them.

But I think it's important that we try and raise aspirations, that we try and identify with them that their families are able to exercise choice within the system. And we make this as easy as possible for them to do that.

ANDREW MARR: But does mean that mean helping them move from where they are to a school that might be a few miles away?

RUTH KELLY: It might mean saying, you know, we should we should make transport costs easier for you to bear. There's certainly no...

ANDREW MARR: But there's not going to be yellow buses, there's not going to be any system of moving pupils in large numbers from one area to another?

RUTH KELLY: There is no suggestion whatsoever that what we're trying to do is force children to get on buses to go to schools that they don't want to go to. What we do have to do is raise aspiration and get people to think about the education that best suits them - put their parents in the driving seat as it were - so that the parents can exercise real choice in the system.

ANDREW MARR: Do you want schools to have wider social mixes than they have at the moment?

RUTH KELLY: I'm not in the business of forcing schools to do anything, actually. I think that what they should do is operate within a fair admission system, and we've got a code of admissions that works at the moment, within a system of fair funding, and try and attract those people to the school that would most benefit from the schools.

For example, if you've got a system of specialist schools where one is good at sport and has a specialism in sport, where another has a specialism in science and perhaps another in business and enterprise, it's only right, I think, that the more children that apply to each school.

ANDREW MARR: But there's no, there's nothing coming from government which says we want a bigger class mix, a bigger mix of backgrounds in our schools.

RUTH KELLY: I mean we'll obviously be able to have a more informed conversation about this after the White Paper is published. But I think it's for schools to determine their own admissions policy.

ANDREW MARR: But if you say that then there is no pressure at all on schools to make any change?

RUTH KELLY: It's for schools to determine their own admissions policy, building on the strengths that they have and operating within a fair admissions system as we have at the moment under the code of practice.

ANDREW MARR: Sounds to me like not very much will change then?

RUTH KELLY: Well there's a lot that's going to change because that's because while there has been enormous improvement in the system, and you know if you go back ten years we were considered, I'd say, one of the basket cases in Europe.

People used to come and despair when looking at our school system - to one which is widely recognised as being, if not a world leader, then very good in international terms. We've got to make sure that we continue to build on that progress. And where things have learnt, we've learnt the lessons and can apply those lessons for every school right throughout our school system.

ANDREW MARR: What about the argument that after all this time in government, all those Bills and White Papers and Acts and so on? In many ways you're coming back to where you started. The Conservatives had grant-maintained schools, look at independent schools, looking at removing a lot of powers from the LEAs. And now here you are doing much the same thing.

RUTH KELLY: We're not actually. And there's a fundamental difference to what the Conservatives were proposing under the grant-maintained system. What they did, is they identified an elite group of schools, gave them financial privileges to encourage them to opt out of the system, so that they could serve a minority of pupils extremely well. They could select which pupils they have.

ANDREW MARR: You going to have a large number of elite schools, that's what you want to achieve too isn't it?

RUTH KELLY: Let me just set out the dividing lines for you. They then privileged those schools, those schools were allowed to select pupils and they benefited from unfair funding, they were privileged funding as well. In effect they benefited the few rather than the many.

What our reforms are trying to do is encourage schools through the freedom that has been granted only to some in the past, for all schools who want to, to be able to have that freedom, so that they can benefit not only their own pupils but also other pupils within the local family of schools....

ANDREW MARR: But that must mean in terms... sorry, that must be in terms if you say that the role of the LEAs really falls away now.

RUTH KELLY: Not at all. And in fact these schools are part of the local family of schools. They drive improvement throughout the whole school system as we've seen in the specialist school model. They can share facilities and expertise with other schools and it's very important to work within a local framework.

ANDREW MARR: None of this sounds enormously radical.

RUTH KELLY: Well I think what we're doing is building on the success that we've had, but taking it to the natural next step. Now if we can set schools free to determine how they serve their pupils and parents to the best of their effect, learning the lessons...

ANDREW MARR: You can't set schools free and retain the powers for local authorities?

RUTH KELLY: Let me come to that in a moment. Benefiting from the flexibilities that we've seen in the City Academy programme, benefiting from the link with external partners as we've seen in the specialist school programme. You will give schools a whole new ethos of improvement throughout our school system.

So we're not just talking about reducing the number of failing schools here, we're talking about providing new energy which will give a whole new sense of purpose to every school within our state system. But we want those schools to share that expertise and that ethos with their neighbours.

We want them to work, to raise the standard of education right throughout our local communities. And then again it's a fundamental difference between policies that we're going to be putting forward and discussing on Tuesday, and those in the policies which the Conservatives...

[talking over each over]

ANDREW MARR: I'm still struggling to see where the cutting edge is here, where the real new driver is in this.

RUTH KELLY: Well you'll have to wait to see Andrew, until the proposals are set out on Tuesday. But at the moment we have learnt for example through the City Academy programme that where a school has a powerful ethos, where it has a link with an external partner, where it has full freedom and flexibility to determine its curriculum.

And to design programmes which are in the interest of the pupils and parents, and can share that expertise with other schools. We have seen sometimes in a very short space of time, a remarkable turnabout. There have been some....

ANDREW MARR: Well there have been some great success stories. As I say, I just don't understand how if you're going to give schools all these new powers and you want schools to be free and to be able to determine their own admissions policy and all the rest of it. The LEAs have the same role they used to have, it seems to be illogical.

RUTH KELLY: Well I'm not saying they do have the same role as they used to have, and that's one of the things we'll be setting out in the White Paper.

ANDREW MARR: Is it the case as reported today, that John Prescott's very upset about some aspects of this?

RUTH KELLY: Well, as you know, whenever flagship policies are developed by the government there's going to be debate within the government as to precisely how those are determined.

ANDREW MARR: John Prescott is upset by some aspects of this.

RUTH KELLY: But I think the important point about John and other Members of the Cabinet indeed, is that there have been really good close working relationships throughout the build-up to this White Paper, particularly with the ODPM we've worked through these issues, we've come to a resolution....

ANDREW MARR: He thinks clearly that you're bringing the ethos of private schools into the state system.

RUTH KELLY: No it depends what you mean by the ethos of a private school doesn't it Andrew?

ANDREW MARR: But we're not talking about fagging obviously, then, well you know, but there is a sense that the sort of, the elitism of the private system is being backed into the state system. And he's worried that that's going to result in kids in sink schools, sink estates, being left behind.

RUTH KELLY: No - if you're talking about an ethos from a private school which is good discipline, high standards and an expectation that every single child in that school is going to succeed, then it's something I want to see in our state system.

If you're talking about privilege, selection, unfair funding, that is something I would never want to see in our state system. So I think it's important that we clarify what sort of ethos we're trying to build.

ANDREW MARR: There is some, there is some, I'm going to be cheeky, there is some selection of course in the state system right now. Because the Oratory does it in London, Tony Blair's school.

RUTH KELLY: There is selection by aptitude. In fact the Oratory doesn't select...

ANDREW MARR: Does by interview though.

RUTH KELLY: The Oratory interviews are about faith and commitment of the children. They do not select on academic ability. And it's a very important part of our state system that schools operate within the code of admissions and that they do have fair approaches to admissions. That every child can benefit.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask about faith schools, because that's another area where there's been a bit of controversy? I mean, I saw one prediction that there's going to be over 100 new Muslim schools coming into the system.

If part of what the government wants to do is to create a school system in which everybody is sort of educated alongside each other. There may be streaming inside a school, but between schools everybody is, you know, together. Isn't that going completely the wrong way?

RUTH KELLY: Well if you look at the role of state schools in our current system what you'll see is predominantly schools which in fact are more ethnically diverse than non-state schools, than non-faith schools in our state system at the moment, and there's strong commitment.

ANDREW MARR: ..diverse?

RUTH KELLY: Ethnically diverse, absolutely. And some of the evidence on that is quite striking. But also schools that are committed to social inclusion, to mixing and to a contribution.

ANDREW MARR: You're not worried about more faith schools coming into the system?

RUTH KELLY: Well what I think we need to do is try and give parents the choices that they want to make for their children within the state system, rather than forcing parents to opt out of the state system which is, I think, a mistake that we've made in the past.

ANDREW MARR: One non-education question, I think. David Cameron, 39, if he takes over does that mean the Labour party also has to jump a generation? Does that mean that Gordon is no longer eschewing?

RUTH KELLY: Well let's look at what David Cameron stands for, for a moment...

ANDREW MARR: Let's look at the generational question.

RUTH KELLY: Well, I mean it's ridiculous for us to speculate at all about the Tory leadership contest when they haven't even got a leader at the moment. So I think we should leave that for weeks to come.

ANDREW MARR: Well, we shall return to that in weeks to come. Meanwhile, Ruth Kelly, thank you very much indeed.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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