Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 13:31 UK

End of an era as Adonis is moved

By Mike Baker

Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis
Andrew Adonis was a key player in Tony Blair's education reforms

This removal of Lord Adonis from his job as Parliamentary under-secretary for schools marks the end of an era in education policy in England.

Ever since 1998, when he became an advisor to 10 Downing Street, he has been one of the key drivers of radical education policy. He is synonymous with Tony Blair's drive to modernise comprehensives and to create "independent state schools".

In particular, he was the champion of the drive to create more specialist schools, city academies and, more recently, trust schools. He was the key link between the government and the outside sponsors required to put up the cash, or provide the special ethos, for these schools.

He was also closely involved in the policy that led to the introduction of the so-called university "top-up fees".

Above all, though, he had a passion for school reform. In my 20 years reporting on education, I never met anyone with more enthusiasm and zeal for change.

A meeting with Lord Adonis always meant a non-stop barrage of facts and passionate argument - delivered with characteristic machine-gun style delivery - in favour of yet more radical steps to set schools free.

Aspiring middle classes

There was something very personal about his desire to see a much better offer in the state sector. Some of this came from his boyhood experiences on a local authority bursary at an independent boarding school in Oxfordshire.

He did not hide his admiration for the independent sector. As the son of a single-parent postman he was very aware that he had a chance in education that was denied to most others of his background. It was a start of a brilliant academic career that led to a fellowship at the University of Oxford.

He was no fan of local education authorities and had an instinctive feel for the concerns of the aspiring middle classes who wanted to support state schools, providing it was not too great a sacrifice for their own child.

He was proud of the achievements that he felt the Labour government had made, believing it was a tribute to the government's school reforms that the proportion of pupils going to private schools had not risen, despite a period of growing affluence.

But he also urged against complacency, believing strongly that there was still along way to go to improve state education.


He felt there were just too many poor state schools. He was the active leader of London Challenge, a focus on improving the capital's inner-city schools, which saw exam results rise faster than the national average.

He was not ashamed about encouraging state schools to emulate some aspects of the private sector, encouraging state-private partnerships, state boarding schools, and the take-up of the International Baccalaureate beyond the independent sector.

As a late joiner of the Labour Party (he was previously in the SDP) he was not in the mainstream of the Labour movement and, as an unelected advisor and then minister in the Lords, he owed his political career to the patronage of Tony Blair.

Indeed he was even nicknamed, by the late Professor Ted Wragg, "Tony Zoffis" - as in "Tony's office" - indicating his closeness to the former prime minister's education policy.

He was appointed as junior schools minister in 2005, reportedly against the wishes of the then education secretary, Ruth Kelly. However he outlasted her and appeared to be one of the few long-term survivors amongst education ministers, who have come and gone with remarkable speed.

One of his strengths, from Tony Blair's perspective, was his ability to work with - and be trusted by - those outside the Labour Party.

Indeed he developed good working relationships with the former head of Ofsted, Chris Woodhead, and with Sir Cyril Taylor, formerly of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Neither of these were Labour supporters but their support was part of Blair's drive to reassure parents.

However, Adonis' enthusiasm for working with people outside the education establishment, and his good contacts in the independent sector, alienated many on the political left and in the teacher unions.

As the Blair years came to an end, and schools policy became an internal Labour battleground, Adonis was caught in the crossfire. Rebel Labour MPs wanted him sacked over the issue of trust schools.

He will be very disappointed to be leaving education, after a decade of close involvement in schools policy.

He will certainly feel that the job of improving state schools was not yet done.

Academy fears on Adonis reshuffle
06 Oct 08 |  Education
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30 Sep 08 |  Education
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20 Jul 07 |  Education
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03 Jul 07 |  Education

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