Widdecombe: Encourage ballroom dancing in schools

Anne Widdecombe and partner Anton Du Beke Miss Widdecombe was described as a "Dalek in drag" by one judge

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Former politician and unlikely Strictly Come Dancing star Ann Widdecombe has said ballroom dancing could help boost discipline and fitness in schools.

The activity should be encouraged, but not made compulsory in schools, she said in response to reporters' questions at an education conference.

Miss Widdecombe said dancing could also teach social responsibility.

The former Home Office minister, 63, lasted 10 weeks on the show, despite strong criticism from its judges.

Asked at North of England Education Conference, in Blackpool, about the benefits of ballroom dancing, the former Conservative MP responded: "Discipline and fitness. It's also quite a good test of memory."

She added: "I stand up and I make speeches of anything up to 45 minutes, and I never, ever even consider that I might forget what I'm going to say. Trying to string together 30 seconds worth of ballroom steps proved quite a challenge."

Miss Widdecombe also said that, because ballroom dancing involved cooperation with other people, it also teaches social responsibility.

"I actually can't see anything about it not to like," she said.

'Barrage'

But she rejected the idea of making ballroom dancing compulsory in schools.

"As soon as something is regarded as beneficial somebody jumps up and says 'let's make it compulsory, lets pass a law saying you have to gyrate around a ballroom floor'.

"I don't want to make it compulsory, but I think it should be widely encouraged".

She said that being assessed on dancing skills could help combat a culture she said was "afraid" of competition.

But she added that it would not help youngsters' self-esteem to face the "barrage" of criticism she faced from judges each week on the show.

Miss Widdecombe was labelled a "Dalek in drag" and her dancing "overwhelmingly awful" by judges during the competition.

Addressing the conference, she also said that she believed local authorities should be allowed to set up new grammar schools if they wished to do so.

"There was a time when a child from a poor background who was able, would have got a grammar school education, and he would have had serious rigour.

"And in those days there was no issue over state places at Oxford. Because it was grammar schools that sent kids to Oxbridge with no problems at all," she said.

In contrast, under the current system, some children "find gold" in state schools, while some end up in "very large, very incompetent, very over-stretched and seriously disruptive schools".

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