Socialist Worker

Saint Estelle did not excel

by Jon Berry, secondary school teacher in St Albans
Issue No. 1824

I WENT away for a couple of days over half term, and when I came back I found that Estelle Morris had resigned. Or at least I thought it was Estelle Morris. Reading the papers and watching the news, it appeared that the carping, nasty, vicious education secretary, a figure prompting contempt and ridicule in my school - and thousands of others, no doubt - had become Saint Estelle the Humble. The media claim she was an honest victim of the bullying Mr Fixits of Downing Street.

What a load of absolute nonsense. As much as any of the creeping zealots of Blair's cabinet, Estelle Morris represented the absolute epitome of the New Labour functionary. This was the woman who a few weeks ago announced that there were comprehensive schools she 'wouldn't touch with a bargepole'.

Well, that's OK, Estelle. Just do what Tony does and ship your kids five boroughs across London until you find one that's a bit more to your liking. Schools, she told us, 'concentrated too much on sameness' and confused 'excellence with elitism'.

That's a bit rich coming from the woman who insisted that all seven, 11 and 14 year olds must take the same national tests at the same time, and then used the results to make barmy league tables! But she was unlucky, wasn't she? First of all there was the cock-up over vetting all school workers at the start of the year. Then there was that unfortunate business with the A-level results.

Well, afraid not. Morris and her chums insisted on using the privatised company which made such a mess of the criminal checks.

She was adamant about these checks, but it appears that they haven't revealed that paedophiles lurk in the corridors of our schools. Like her recent intervention over the exclusion of the Surrey schoolboys, Morris knew a moral panic when she saw one and wasn't afraid to try to make some cheap political capital out of it.

That's not bad luck, that's crap judgement. And as for the introduction of the new AS/A-level system, the whole weight of advice that she and her department was given pointed to the fact that an overloaded system would inevitably produce results that were unreliable and unsafe.

Instead of heeding this advice Morris pushed on regardless, wedded implacably to the agenda of raised standards, 'specialist' schools, payment by results for teachers, and the constant measuring of our children.

For most of us, the fact that our kids can face up to 105 compulsory national tests between the ages of five and 16 is a matter for horrified disbelief. For Morris it was a matter of pride. And finally, we're told, St Estelle's dignified departure is a blow for the place of women in British politics.

Oh really? Is this the same Estelle Morris whose department is currently embarking on a review of university funding which will close the door to even more working class girls and women going on to higher education? Or the one who has made the working lives of so many primary school teachers - the vast majority of whom are women - so dull and unbearable for the whole of her period of office?

So, please, no sickly sentiment over the departure of the latest of Blair's automatons. And even though her beefy successor may think he can make the education world stand to attention, he'll soon find out he's got a scrap on his hands.


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Sat 2 Nov 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1824
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