15/12/2014 04:17 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Nicky Morgan Grilled By Children On Maths, Michael Gove, Smacking And Library Closures

First News

Have the Conservatives made a pact not to answer maths questions from children?

First George Osborne refused to tell a seven-year-old what seven times eight equals.

And now Nicky Morgan has been equally evasive when asked by a 10-year-old whether she knows what the cubic root of 125 is.

Nicky shuddered and said: "I think that's one that I might just have to go away and work out. I think politicians who answer maths questions or spelling questions on air normally come a cropper."

Leon Remphry asked Nicky the question as part of a Q&A session organised by Sky News and First News, the weekly newspaper for young people.

Leon also wanted to know how the Government intended to ensure children grew up with a love of reading if the closure of libraries continued.

Nicky replied that she 'absolutely' wanted young people to love reading and went on to praise the wide range of services libraries offer and explain that she's supporting Save The Children's literacy campaign.

But Leon was dissatisfied with Nicky's response so he challenged her: "I don't think you've actually answered the question. Is the Government going to take steps or are they not?"

Nicky tried again: "We are reminding local councils that it is their duty to provide libraries which are, obviously, where people can borrow books for free which is the critical thing and, as Education Secretary, I want there to be libraries in schools.

"But sometimes actually politicians can't just say 'yes' or 'no', we have to work with local councils in the local area, because it's right that they do provide the services that are right for their local area."

Venandah Madenhai, 16, then moved the discussion onto Nicky's predecessor Michael Gove.

"Michael Gove, the previous education secretary, wasn't very popular with schools. Will you be carrying on with any of his policies?' she asked.

Nicky chuckled and then replied that she will be continuing Gove's policies, but she will be taking a different approach from him.

"I obviously need to work with the teaching profession and I think actually sometimes politicians don't explain why we're making changes," she said. "So part of my task over the next few months is going to be explaining why we've made the changes we've made and what they actually mean to people's lives."

"If you go in as a politician for a popularity contest, you'll find that doesn't work," she added.

"But I think actually by explaining, by going out by doing things like this [interview], but also I do a lot of going round the country visiting schools, talking to teachers. It's so important to listen."

James Lloyd-Elliott, 11, asked if Nicky thought it was shameful that Britain is one of only a handful of European countries where it is legal for children to be hit. "Shouldn't violence against children should be banned altogether?" he asked.

NIcky replied: "We don't want to criminalise parents. There's what we have called reasonable chastisement, which is a long way of saying that if it was a sharp tap or a mild smack which doesn't leave a mark, then actually I don't want to criminalise parents if that's the decision that they take to discipline their child.

"But anything more serious than that is illegal and should be stopped by the police and should be reported to social services."

Nicky mentioned that as a mother of a six-year-old son she's aware that 'children don't come with a guidebook.' (Nice use of our strapline Nicky, been reading Parentdish by any chance?)

"As politicians, we struggle with this all the time - when does government make a decision or when do we allow parents or carers to make that decision? It's very difficult.

"People sometimes talk about the nanny state and, actually, we don't want to be telling people how to bring up their children, or how to be parents. But there has to be a line, when we say, no, that is a line that you have crossed and that is a child that now needs support from other people.

Chloe, 11, cut to the quick and asked what the Education Secretary's qualifications for the job were "given that you haven't worked in the education sector and had private schooling".

Nicky responded: "First of all, I'm obviously a parent, with a child in the system, so I very much have a viewpoint from that. I have members of my family who have been teachers and my husband is a governor of a number of different schools and a college.

"But, also, I think as a minister, you're there to challenge the system, so you're not there necessarily to be the expert that worked in the system, but you're there to care about it, and ask the questions: 'Well, why are we doing it that way?'"

You can see the full interview on Sky News.

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