Rebels Don't Understand School Reforms, Says Kelly; Embattled Minister Hits Back at Critics

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Byline: JOE MURPHY;DOMINIC HAYES

RUTH KELLY staged a show of defiance over Labour's education reforms today, claiming Labour rebels opposed to the changes were either caving in or did not understand the policy.

The Education Secretary said even the most senior critics - including former education secretary Lady Morris and ex-Labour leader Lord Kinnock - may have misunderstood.

"This is a very, very complex area," she said. "I think there is big misunderstanding among certain of my colleagues."

Her comments came as a leaked draft report confirmed that the education select committee is set to call for local authorities to get tougher powers over schools, including the right to determine how many pupils from poor backgrounds individual-schools should take.

As revealed by the Standard this week, it will also demand tougher curbs on schools that select by ability "through the back door" and say town halls must enforce the rules.

But Ms Kelly, touring TV and radio studios to counter claims that the Government is giving in to rebel demands, insisted selection would be "absolutely full stop against the law" under the reforms.

Despite threats by 90 Labour MPs to rebel against the schools Bill, Ms Kelly claimed she was winning them over.

"In the talks that I have been having with backbenchers over the last couple of months, those concerns have narrowed down quite substantially to a couple of areas," she said. "I think we can give the necessary clarification and reassurance on those points and that is what they are looking for."

She said Lady Morris's demand for schools to be interdependent was already in the Government reforms and claimed Lord Kinnock rather than the Government was out of step with MPs.

Her comments clashed with the claims of Labour dissidents who say the Government faces certain defeat if it fails to compromise. Many saw her defiance as being staged to "talk up" the value of those concessions, expected next month. …