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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
Profile: Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris
Morris: from Comprehensive to Cabinet

Elevating Estelle Morris to the helm of such a big, high-profile government department as education was always a risky move.

Estelle Morris
Good times.....
No one doubted her passion, as a former teacher, for the subject - and she had the respect of the teachers' unions.

But it is very unusual in politics to promote a minister to secretary of state within the same department. There were doubts about whether she was up to it.

And because she was not an outsider she could not say "nothing to do with me" - even if that's not her style - if things went wrong. And they did go wrong from the outset.

Training fiasco

Tellingly, in her resignation statement, Ms Morris said she felt she had achieved more in her first job as schools minister than as secretary of state.

Her first big crisis was the overspend on and fraudulent misuse of the Individual Learning Accounts scheme. Although she had not set up the scheme, its ending last year was as messy as it was sudden, and left many legitimate training providers aggrieved.

A fresh report on this is looming - with the National Audit Office due to pronounce on Friday on the scheme and the fact that ministers were warned before it began that it was an accident waiting to happen.

A-level fiasco

The bigger accident waiting to happen of course was the rumpus over A-level results this summer. This has resulted in almost 2,000 students' AS and A-levels being upgraded - but again a widespread sense of unease that all is not over yet.

The second part of the inquiry by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, is due to report next month. Again, the hands of Estelle Morris - who famously became a teacher because she failed her A-levels - were clean.

But in the public perception, the buck stops at the top anyway.

Vetting fiasco

In the meantime, something else that wasn't her fault blew up when the new Criminal Records Bureau failed to get school staff in England and Wales vetted in time for the start of the school year.

Estelle Morris, Education Secretary
..... bad times
This was a crisis triggered by a ministerial decision to tighten up the checks following the Soham murders. Not, as it happens, Estelle Morris's decision - she was away on holiday - but again she publicly took responsibility for it all.

Her way out of these most recent crises has been to talk tough - tough on wayward parents and in particular tough on their wayward offspring.

But within a week of just such a tough speech at the Labour Party conference she was having her words put to the test - when two boys expelled for making death threats against a teacher were reinstated by an independent appeal panel.

Expulsions fiasco

Nothing particularly unusual in that - the trouble was that someone at the school told The Sun newspaper, and the story took off.

Ms Morris - to the surprise of correspondents - not only condemned what had happened but made it clear she wanted the boys out of the school, with senior sources in her department letting the media know she had stepped in to sort it out.

But she had no power to intervene in this way. Not only that, but it emerged that a previous pledge to reform the appeal panels had not actually been put into effect.

Then just this week it emerged that she had promised MPs she would resign if the government's test targets were not met - which they weren't - but later denied having said it.

Enough is enough

In her resignation statement, Ms Morris said she had learnt what she was good at and what she was less good at.

"I am less good at strategic management of a huge department and I am not good at dealing with the modern media."

Downing Street is making it clear she was not pushed and that her ministerial career is not at end.

She was widely credited for boosting standards in primary schools over the past few years, particularly through the introduction of the literacy and numeracy strategies.

But the 50-year-old Birmingham Yardley MP seems to have decided that for now at least, enough is enough.

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The A-level fiasco did most damage"

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