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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Estelle Morris resignation: Ask Barry Sheerman MP
Estelle Morris' resignation as Education Secretary for England has taken most people by surprise.
She stepped down last night, saying she felt her performance had not been as effective as she would have liked.
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair met Ms Morris on Tuesday to discuss her wish to resign, and told her to think about it overnight - she did but remained "absolutely sure" she wanted to go.
The resignation of Education Secretary Estelle Morris was welcomed enthusiastically by the Conservatives - but branded "a tragedy" by one teachers' union.
Do you think Estelle Morris was right to go? Will the education system be better off without her?
Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee took your questions in a LIVE interactive forum.
Was Estelle Morris right to go? We'll be putting your questions to Barry Sheerman, Chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee. Thank you very much for joining us Mr Sheerman. I would just say at this point that you are a Labour MP so obviously not completely neutral on this one.
Let's put the first question to you. It comes from Chris O'Connell, Netherlands: Charles Clarke as a replacement? What do you think?
She had total support from No. 10, total support on the Back Benches. It's totally unusual for a minister in those circumstances to resign. I understand that it was a personal decision. Charles Clarke's now having to take over. He had a training as a junior education minister. He had an apprenticeship as a Cabinet Minister. He knows how the levers of power work. He used to work in Neil Kinnock's inner cabinet when he was leader of the Opposition. I've got a lot of confidence in him.
In education he's going to have to develop his diplomatic skills because you don't tell teachers what to do, you have to persuade them - you have to go halfway, you have to work with heads. There's such a multiplicity of organisations in the education system and if you don't get them working together - if you not the sort of conductor of the orchestra - you're not going to be successful. So he's going to have to hone his diplomatic skills.
The literacy and numeracy targets, introducing testing - one can understand why all that had to come about in order to shake up the educational system. We've consistently, over five years, got rising standards. They still rose but just missed the target that both David and Estelle wanted in the last month. But a pretty good performance.
So my view is, yes, the Government is radically discontent about the quality of education that was being delivered. It is improving but the job is only half done.
As I said earlier, the Government came in - massive investment - £6 billion a year into pre-school nursery places as of right at 4 and now 3 years-old. Through to the 7 and 11 year-olds.
I think the government tanks are now on the lawns of secondary education because we've got to get that right. That's where working-class children - kids from poorer backgrounds - start to fail. Then keeping children in education after 16 to 18 year-old and then onto a 50% target in higher education. So I think the seamless approach in England is preferable.
It's a pity that one's got to have such a tough skin to go in for spin and to put on a front to be a Minister. Estelle Morris didn't like that - that wasn't Estelle and I think that those qualities were Estelle's and I thought that they made her a very fine Minister. I'm very sad that we're getting to the stage it seems that you can't have people with that sort of degree of sensitivity that can continue on in public life. I think that's wrong.
But what a speech last night. Can you imagine a man going on television and saying what she said? All power to her. More female Ministers if that a quality.
The vetting of teachers was a Home Office problem. The problems with A and AS level results was in the hands of the independent regulator and exam boards. All these things really were at one remove from her and I think she felt very frustrated she couldn't get to grips and get them sorted.
On the other hand, she had some terrible press - her privacy was stripped away. She had people camping on the doorstep of her relatives and she hated that.
Now part of my committee's job is to make sure that money is well spent. We get good well-designed schools, teachers are highly motivated and all those other things. But by and large, I would have thought that here was a Secretary of State that should have been congratulated on the wonderful job she's done. I'm just terribly disappointed she didn't continue at least to the next election.
I sometimes get a little bit worried having been in the House of Commons over 20 years that too many people come now come into politics, they come in fresh from university, they work as a research assistant, they stay on working in central office or in the Labour Party headquarters and then they become Members of Parliament and then they become Ministers. They have no experience of outside life. If we're looking for quality and diversity, Parliament must go out there and parties must go out there and make sure all the time good quality people come through otherwise we all get poor government.
Of course the official Opposition will say - oh, she went because the policies of the Labour Government are awful and she made mistakes and she promised to resign if targets weren't up to a certain extent. And of course for Oppositions, that's their job to do that.
But I would ask your viewers and listeners to be with me in being more optimistic about politicians and politics. We have a wonderful media industry these days that think a lot of us are cynical spin people. You know, most of the people I know in politics aren't - they're honest people who came into politics to do something serious for the good of the people - on all sides of Parliament.
With 659 MPs, you're going to get some strange ones, some rotten ones, some iffy ones. But the bulk of the people that I know that come into politics are pretty good people and I think they reflect the rest of our country who are made up of pretty good people.
But I've always believed that you send your children to the state school with the kinds of people that grow up in your community and you support the schools that exist in your community. And rather than selfishly leaving a school, you stay in there, you become a governor, you help drive up the standards.
I just took my Select Committee to two cities - to Birmingham and to Auckland - to look at education in two cities. Birmingham - the most improved education service in the country. Why has it improved? Good political leadership, inspiration from the Director of Education, Tim Brighouse, and a lot of parents, teachers and heads that believe in the state system and have driven up standards.
I think it's a great shame when people leave and create a nice little selfish cocoon for themselves. I believe in staying with your community and making sure you get the best out of that.
Of course as soon as you introduce a new system, an awful lot of people then come out of the woodwork and say oh no, no, no - this is terrible because it's not what we were used to, it's not as knowable, our children are being guinea pigs and of course every change has the guinea pig generation. And so then everyone says everything is wrong. And then we have the examination boards and the regulator who get it wrong.
Now I have to tell you that I've looked very closely at all the evidence and I don't see any fault on the Secretary of State in terms of what happened this summer. I can see a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority that I think got its supervision wrong. I saw three examining boards who I think got it wrong but will get it right in future.
Being a Minister isn't the be all and end all. I like the system I've introduced in my committee where we regularly assess Ministers - check them and try to see what their performance is like and then share that with the rest of Parliament.
When people see an under-performing Minister - Estelle was certainly not one of those - the word soon goes about and that is why there is such a short time in office for a lot of Ministers.
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