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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 20:09 GMT 21:09 UK

Estelle Morris: classroom to cabinet

Former teacher Estelle Morris takes over as education secretary, in a newly-created Department for Education and Skills.

Ms Morris, who a decade ago was still in the classroom, succeeds David Blunkett, who has moved to become Home Secretary.


Estelle Morris

  • Born 1952
  • Qualified as teacher 1974
  • Teacher from 1974 - 1992
  • Local councillor 1979 - 1991
  • Member of Parliament for Yardley 1992
  • Opposition education spokesperson 1995
  • Schools minister 1997
  • Schools standards minister 1998
  • Education secretary 2001

    The promotion for Ms Morris, moving up from her post as schools standards minister, is in a department which will no longer have responsibility for employment.

    The former Department for Education and Employment is to be replaced by Ms Morris's ministry, dedicated to education and training, and a separate department for Work and Pensions.

    The promotion reflects the approval of Prime Minister Tony Blair - and one of her former tutors says that she was the original Blairite.

    "She was a Blairite before Blair," says Professor Jim Campbell, who taught Estelle Morris when she was training to be a teacher 27 years ago.

    Without any signs of the prevailing radical chic, he says that the student teacher Estelle Morris was "interested in making things work" rather than in political ideology.

    "She was extremely lively, very interested in ideas, popular with students, always ready to make a contribution - and the kind of student you always wanted."

    And he said that she was a success with the pupils in "very difficult schools", when she was training at Coventry College of Education.

    Now head of the University of Warwick's Institute of Education, Professor Campbell said that the biggest challenge facing the new education secretary will be attracting today's young people into the teaching profession.

    Estelle Morris had entered teacher training despite flunking her A-levels.

    At Whalley Range High School in Manchester in 1970 she failed her English and French exams but had an unconditional offer of a place on a teacher training course.

    After a year she converted this to a BEd degree course, which was validated by the University of Warwick.

    Once qualified as a teacher, she joined the staff of Sidney Stringer School and Community College in Coventry.

    She stayed there, eventually becoming head of sixth form studies, until she was elected to parliament in 1992.

    This solid background in teaching earns her the respect of teachers now.

    Political family

    But politics was in her blood.

    Estelle Morris, who will be 49 this month, came from a political family in Manchester - both her father, Charles Morris and her uncle, Alf - now Lord Morris - were MPs.

    But she is proud of the fact that she made her own way in politics elsewhere, as a councillor on Warwick District Council from 1979 to 1991, then capturing the marginal Birmingham Yardley parliamentary seat, initially with a majority of only 162.

    She was Opposition spokeswoman on education and employment until Labour's 1997 election win, when she was made a junior minister.

    She was promoted to the job of school standards minister in a reshuffle a year later, replacing Stephen Byers - thought to have been the other front runner for the top job in education this time.

    Grown in the job

    What is highly unusual is that she has made it to such an important post - and after only nine years as an MP - without going via another department.

    Initially she came across as a somewhat diffident minister, but it emerged that the quietly-spoken, rather elfin Ms Morris had a steely core.

    She comes across as straightforward, honest, "almost like one of the Famous Five" - but no pushover.

    Officials at the education department, who regard her as very bright but not flashy, credit her with overseeing the transformation of standards in primary schools.

    After her morning swim she puts in long hours but is not thought of as a workaholic.

    Faced down the unions

    Her predecessor, David Blunkett, made her his right-hand woman and she grew in the role - taking on the teachers' unions over performance-related pay.

    Her toughest moment was when she faced a walkout and heckling as she addressed last year's conference of the National Union of Teachers - of which she is still a member.

    Describing herself as "a sticker and not a quitter", she refused to budge on the issue of a link between pay and pupils' results.

    Her election campaign moment came on "Ladies' Day" when she was on the platform at Labour's daily press conference, which was being chaired by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

    Jackie Ashley from the New Statesman complained at the lack of female representation in the campaign.

    "Doesn't that give a very poor image of what Labour thinks about women?" she asked.

    As Estelle Morris went to answer, Gordon Brown butted in and spoke across her.

    She laughed it off. But there is a doubt in some minds as to whether she will be tough enough in the Cabinet to wring extra money for education from the Treasury.

    Too nice? Don't bank on it.



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