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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 11:43 GMT
Education policy
On Sunday 12 November, Andrew Marr interviewed Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Education

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

Alan Johnson MP
Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Education

ANDREW MARR: Good morning Alan Johnson.

It is also, of course, a convention that the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is in the Hull studio.

So perhaps that's, that's good news for you there already.

ALAN JOHNSON: Absolutely. East Hull have had this for too long. It's moving over to West Hull.

ANDREW MARR: Very good. Now an awful lot of people seem to be in this contest. It is only for the Deputy Leadership. Why without being, being rude about it, why should the rest of us care?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well it's an important job in the Party and always has been. There's a, always been a specific role for Deputy Leader. The question of whether Deputy Leader is Deputy Prime Minister is a matter for the leader.

But it's only of course applicable if we're in government. And I think the major drive of the Deputy Leader and certainly my major job will be to focus on the marginal seats to ensure we win a fourth term in government.

ANDREW MARR: You decided not to stand as leader, disappointing I think quite a few Blairites by doing so. Was this because you thought Gordon Brown is now completely unbeatable?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well you have to decide for yourself, you, and there's no good entering a contest unless you really want to win it. So I had to decide ..

ANDREW MARR: And you didn't?

ALAN JOHNSON: .. do, do I really want that job first of all. Secondly is there a better candidate. I happen to think that Gordon is. There might be other candidates and you know there's plenty of time yet.

But I have to make my decision. John Prescott, back in 1994 went for Leader and Deputy Leader. I've ruled that out. And so I've made it clear I'm going for Deputy Leader.

ANDREW MARR: Right. Now there's speculation again in the papers this morning that John Reid is lining up to stand against Gordon Brown. In your view would it be a good thing if that kind of high level contest took place for the leadership?

ALAN JOHNSON: That would be fine. Gordon's made it clear himself that he would welcome a challenge. I don't think it's a necessity though. The point I was making last week is that there's a, there's a view in some places of the media that you know, that in all circumstances there has to be a contest.

But there only has to be a contest if somebody like John decides that they want to stand. You don't gerrymander this. You don't produce a contest just for the sake of having a contest. So you know I've made my decision, other people will make theirs.

ANDREW MARR: You were very complimentary about Gordon Brown when you made your announcement. Are you now in the Gordon Brown camp for the leadership?

ALAN JOHNSON: Look, I've always been complimentary about Gordon. I, I knew him when I was a Trade Union leader. I've known him for many years and worked with him for many years. I'm neither a Brownite or a Blairite.

I don't follow the cult of the personality. And I certainly think that when the leadership changes - and it's been a brilliant leadership of Tony Blair and John Prescott - we need to be in a new era with, and certainly if it is a Brown-led party we need to bring in people with all the talents. We've got talent in depth in our Party, from Yvette Cooper ..

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

ALAN JOHNSON: .. David Miliband, right through different generations. And we have to unite them all together, not look at them as if they're in one particular camp or another.

ANDREW MARR: But just ..

ALAN JOHNSON: I certainly am not in any particular camp. I'm in the Johnson camp.

ANDREW MARR: So you're not one of those who say you want to see Gordon Brown as the next Prime Minister?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I think Gordon Brown would be an excellent Prime Minister. As I said ..

ANDREW MARR: But to the exclusion of others?

ALAN JOHNSON: .. last week he's got the gravitas. Well it'll be a matter for the Party. The Party will decide who the leader is. And I'm sure Gordon would be the first person to say it's, you know there's a process to be gone through. And the Party will decide. All I'm very clear about is I'm ruling myself out.

ANDREW MARR: Right.

ALAN JOHNSON: I'm not going to stand for the Leader. I am going to stand for Deputy Leader.

ANDREW MARR: Can, can you tell us then whether you'd vote for him as Leader?

ALAN JOHNSON: Er I fully expect to vote for Gordon as Leader.

ANDREW MARR: Right. Thank you very much. Let's move on then to education. You've announced that you'd like to see it mandatory to stay on at school until you're eighteen unless, until, or until you've got a certain level of qualifications. Why is that important to you?

ALAN JOHNSON: Well I just say Andrew it's not staying on at school. It's remaining in some form of education up until at least the age of eighteen. And yes it could be a matter not of reaching a certain age but reaching a certain level. Reaching Level 2 for instance which is the equivalent of five GCSEs.

Now that's what we want to happen. We've got a problem with our participation rate. Youngsters drop out of education at age sixteen, seventeen, as soon as they're able to, to a far greater degree than they do in other countries. And that's not sustainable incidentally for our economy, in the world we find ourselves in now.

So the, whilst we've introduced things like the Education Maintenance Allowance and that's improved the situation. We've extended the number of apprenticeships vastly and that's very important. The first task must be to engage and inspire youngsters to want to stay on. So, so ..

ANDREW MARR: So can I just be clear about - sorry - just to interrupt you. If you get a certain number of GCSE passes then you'll still be able to leave school at sixteen. It's that if you haven't got up to a certain standard you have to carry on in education either until you get there or until you're eighteen?

ALAN JOHNSON: That's an idea. It could either be an age based, just as in Germany and Belgium. The Netherlands are taking through legislation at the moment. Ontario in Canada where I was recently have done this on an age based system. But look this is an idea. We're looking at this very closely.

And if we decide to move down this route then obviously there'd be wide consultation. But there is, you know there's an argument of to get to a certain level or to get to a certain age. But the point is this I think Andrew. We all want youngsters to be in education. It would be unthinkable now to see a fourteen year old at work.

And yet that was the reality for people, many of your viewers, back before the nineteen forties. I left school at fifteen. It would be inexplicable now to find a fifteen year old at work with - so, so society moves on. And this is not saying that youngsters ought to be behind a desk doing quadratic equations. If that suits them, fine.

We're saying if they're in a job it should be a job attached to training. They should be in an apprenticeship. They should be receiving some form of training to develop their skills and enhance their education up to at least the age of eighteen. I think that's what society wants. Whether we should legislate for it in terms of the school leav... so called school leaving age is something I'm very interested in looking at.

ANDREW MARR: Are you comfortable about talking about people staying on or being in education until they're eighteen and yet you can join the army - I mean it's Remembrance Sunday. You can join the army at sixteen. Most people don't go out to fight at sixteen but are you comfortable about that?

ALAN JOHNSON: Yes. No they don't go out to fight. And when they go into the army at sixteen they receive training. And you know they, they leave that process in the army with better skills than they went in. So actually that's a good example. I am happy about that. Yes.

And you know you can get married theoretically at sixteen if you have your parents' permission. You should be in training and education at least until the age of eighteen.

ANDREW MARR: And ...

ALAN JOHNSON: And do you know when, when I left school there was lots of jobs you could walk into where you didn't need qualifications. There were vast areas where they employed unskilled workers. That's changing in the twenty first century. So it would be good for our economy but above all good for the individuals themselves to actually complete their education.

ANDREW MARR: Nineteen ninety seven Labour said education, educa... Tony Blair said education, education, education, his big priority. All this time later forty per cent of fourteen year olds are still not achieving anything like what they should be doing in reading, writing and arithmetic. It's not a great over all record is it?

ALAN JOHNSON: It's a fabulous record. And you know it, we're unremitting in taking this forward. If you look everywhere.

If you look at nursery education and Sure Start Children's Centres. If you look at literacy and numeracy where we were mediocre, twentieth in the world for our eleven year olds.

We're now third in the world at reading. You're right about there being more to do. But just look at what the situation was like in nineteen ninety seven. Crumbling schools. Kids having to share books. A lack of teachers. Now thirty six thousand more teachers.

A hundred and fifty thousand more support staff. In inner London Andrew which you would know about only thirty two per cent of kids got five decent GCSEs. That's now up to fifty nine, sixty per cent.

ANDREW MARR: Right, well ..

ALAN JOHNSON: So enormous achievements. But there's ..

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

ALAN JOHNSON: .. this is a journey that we're on.

ANDREW MARR: Alan we will pers..., we will pursue that, that journey when you're with us again in the studio I'm sure. But for now thank you very much indeed from Hull.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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