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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK
Education secretary resigns
Estelle Morris and John Prescott
Estelle Morris received applause as she left her office
Education Secretary Estelle Morris has left her office to tears and applause after she resigned saying the job was too important to have "second best".

In an interview with BBC News Ms Morris said she had "been honest with herself" and thought she had not been as good at the cabinet post as in her old job as schools standards minister.

The former teacher has come under sustained pressure in recent weeks in the wake of the debacle over A-level marking and delays in vetting teachers for the new school year.

I'm not having second best in a job that's as important as this

Estelle Morris
There were further calls for her to quit after she tried to intervene when an appeals panel reinstated two boys expelled for threatening a teacher.

Her departure has prompted speculation about who will replace Ms Morris as secretary of state and has opened up the possibility of a cabinet reshuffle.

Ms Morris was cheered and clapped by civil servants as she left the Department for Education and Skills on Wednesday night.

Several officials even broke down in tears as she walked out.

She was escorted to her car by deputy prime minister John Prescott, who kissed her on the cheek as she left.

This week the former teacher had faced more trouble over an apparent failure to honour her own promise to resign if education targets were missed.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister had "accepted her resignation with regret" and government sources were reported as saying she had not been asked to leave her post.

'Different skills'

Ms Morris said she had felt more comfortable in her previous role as schools minister than as a secretary of state taking big strategic decisions and running a "huge" department.

"If I'm really honest with myself I have not enjoyed it as much and I just do not think I'm as good at it as I was at my other job.

A primary school
Primary school targets caused the latest row
"I'm not having second best in a job as important as this."

But she denied feeling out-of-her depth and said she was proud of her achievements.

She also said she thought she could justify herself in each of the recent controversies that had hit her tenure.

Ms Morris has endured the full glare of the media spotlight in recent days and admitted she had found that difficult.

"I do not find the modern media and how they relate to politics easy," she continued, explaining it had not been a factor in her resignation.

The outgoing minister said she found some media coverage "intrusive" but said she was not critical of journalists.

Blair talks

In her resignation letter to Mr Blair, Ms Morris said: "All this has meant that with some of the recent situations I have been involved in I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be or as effective as you need me to be."

Mr Blair met Ms Morris on Tuesday to discuss her wish to resign and he told her to think about it overnight.

She said she had done that and was "absolutely sure" she wanted to go.

Sixth-formers sitting A-level exams
A-level marking raised the pressure on Morris
In a letter to Ms Morris, the prime minister said he was certain she would return to government.

"I have no doubt you are doing an excellent job, as I said to you and I have full confidence in you," said Mr Blair.

Labour Chairman Charles Clarke, a former schools minister, Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Europe Minister Peter Hain and Schools Minister David Miliband are being touted as possible successors to Ms Morris.

Despite the intense volley of attacks on her in recent weeks, Ms Morris has tried to tough out demands for her departure.

News that she has gone has come as a dramatic surprise at Westminster.

In the most recent controversy to land on her desk, Ms Morris was accused of misleading a committee of MPs by denying she had made a promise to resign if targets were not met.

In 1999, as education minister Ms Morris said she would resign if the government failed to meet its targets on numeracy and literacy in 2002.

The targets were not met but Ms Morris said she would prefer to aim high and miss than set objectives that were too easy to meet.

'Sincere politician'

John Dunford, from the Secondary Headteachers' Association, told BBC News 24 he was "disappointed and surprised" to hear Ms Morris had resigned.

Dr Dunford praised Ms Morris as a very sincere politician who was completely committed to improving schools standards.

Sir William Stubbs, the former chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said Ms Morris had presided over a "catastrophe of the credibility" of the A-level system.

But he said that her advisors had "let her down very badly" and had "led her into very difficult and choppy waters" over the A-level crisis.

Conservative shadow education secretary Damian Green said Ms Morris' failure was the failure of the government's education policy.

"She has lost the confidence of parents and pupils in her ability to run our schools," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "I am personally sorry for Estelle Morris.

"Her resignation is an opportunity for a fresh start for the government's entire approach to the education system."

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"She could have hung on"
Estelle Morris
"I have not enjoyed the job as much as I did that of minister of schools"
Shadow education secretary Damian Green
"I think it is overdue"

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23 Oct 02 | Politics
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