David Cameron has just responded to the grammar schools row on WebCameron:
"I announced over a year ago that the party would not go back to a policy of opening new grammar schools or introducing the 11 plus and so am slightly surprised that the press has got so excited about this clear pledge being given all over again by David Willets.
The Telegraph coverage and comment is near hysterical. They simply don’t understand that the idea of introducing a few extra grammars says nothing to thousands of parents worried about children languishing in failing schools. In many ways, “bring back grammars” is a meaningless slogan, as the reason the 11 plus went in so many parts of the country is because it was so unpopular with parents. It is a classic example of fighting a battle of the past rather than meeting the challenges of the future. And it is politically naïve as it just says “we’ll help a few more escape failing schools rather than turn them round for all children.” The way to win the fight for aspiration is to put those things that worked in grammars – aggressive setting to stretch bright pupils, whole class teaching, strong discipline to name but three – in all schools.
What is sad is that the commentators miss all the things we’d do that would help standards and aspiration for all – synthetic phonics at primary school, zero tolerance of bad behaviour, unchallengeable rights for heads to exclude difficult pupils, enforceable home school contracts, saving special schools, setting and streaming, and expanding academies, allowing churches, voluntary bodies and others to open new schools.
Perhaps if I put the words “Bring back” in front of some of these policies they might just get it."
That use of 'bring back' makes me slightly suspicious. The last time I read that phrase used politically was when David Willetts used it in a June 2005 speech: "We mustn't drift into lazy 'bring backery' - the political equivalent of comfort eating." It's just possible that Mr W helped Mr C with his drafting!
It's another sign of the strained Telegraph-Cameron relationship. CCHQ were furious at The Telegraph's initial reaction to Gordon Brown's Budget.
Talking of The Telegraph - I understand that former grammar schoolboy Michael Howard is writing about Tory education policy for tomorrow's paper. I'm told not to expect anything controversial, however.
PS If any candidates learn anything interesting from this evening's conference call with David Willetts - you know where to find me!