The most powerful woman in education sat at a small table chatting to a group of pupils.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly visited Highters Heath Junior and Infant School in Birmingham yesterday as part of Labour's charm offensive to secure a third term in office.

But it was not Ms Kelly who came out with the best soundbite of the day, but the school's headteacher standing behind her.

Describing her philosophy on education, Jan Connor said: "It is about children feeling they have some say in their lives and what happens to them.

"That education doesn't just happen to them.

"The more engaged they are and the more responsibility they have for their school the more of an investment they will make in it.

" They are not disfranchised."

Change a few words and it would be a speech worthy of a politician attempting to woo a sceptical voter. Ruth Kelly has yet to prove herself in the eyes of the education world.

The diminutive 37-year-old mother of four was described as an "unknown quantity" by one union leader when she took over from Charles Clarke earlier this year.

Then came the embarrassing incident when she was jeered at during a meeting of the Secondary Heads Association where one Birmingham head labelled her "patronising".

Her association with the Opus Dei Catholic cult organisation has caused negative comment. Even the way she speaks, has been put under public scrutiny.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly was on the campaign trail in Birmingham yesterday. Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi caught up with her at Highters Heath Junior and Infant School

Though she may have had more than her fair share of knocks four months into her new job, such criticism is part of the course of high office.

As one Labour MP said: "I don't think you could point to one Education Secretary who has not had a rough ride from the unions. It is part of the initiation."

In the flesh, Ms Kelly is less odd than she has been portrayed by sections of the media.

Dressed in a smart dark blue suit, she strolls around the school chatting to pupils and teachers.

She may not have the same Fat Controller appeal of her predecessor, but she is friendly enough. So what of her policies?

The Tories have attempted to steel a march on Labour by claiming to offer parents real choice by allowing them to spend their child's education allocation where they want.

Ms Kelly claims that is not real choice at all.

"They are going to give schools choice not parents," she said.

"What they are saying is all schools will have the ability to select.

"That is selection at the age of five and 11.

"When parents face the prospect of being told they can't go into that school because they haven't passed the test they won't relish that at all."

The Tories have also promised to deal with one of the biggest problems in education - discipline.

They plan to set up correction schools to get wayward pupils back on track.

Ms Kelly describes these as "sink schools".

But her "zero tolerance" approach sounds similar.

"Head teachers must be able to withdraw a child if their behaviour is poor.

"We need extra support units off-site so a child knows exactly where they stand if they cross the line," she said.

Ms Kelly also defended her refusal to absorb A-levels and GCSEs into an over-arching diploma as recommended by Mike Tomlinson - a move which upset many teachers.

And with that, she left the building and returned to the campaign trail.