Last week, almost 4,000 people submitted 1,792 questions on the draft education manifesto. That's a hefty sample of opinion and, in general, the proposals were sensible and well received. With one notable exception.
Before David Cameron replied online to questions on his policy on conservatives.com, people were allowed to vote on the questions, which were rated for popularity by Google.
Among the top 10 questions, two were about grammar schools. No fewer than 10 out of the top-rated 50 raised the issue of grammar schools or the need for academic selection. This was typical:
'Why doesn't the Conservative Party support grammar schools? They give working class children a chance to mix with other classes, each pupil is challenged to achieve his maximum potential and they engender better discipline. Plus they were successful for many years.'
It was posted by Sillet, who might have added that those that remain are now the most successful type of state schools we have!
So this is not a fringe issue as the leadership would have us believe. It's a major concern for one in five voters. Tough! Mr Cameron said those involved in 'practical politics' could not 'waste' time on the 'backward-looking' arguments of the 70s, 80s or 90s. Despite the rhetoric about social mobility, the clear implication is that Westminster and Whitehall still know best. The rest of us will just have to get used to the suppression of some information and free speech. For whose benefit?
Are the points below, dating from 2002 to 2006, 'backward-looking' too?
- In England, more than half of all the A grade A-levels awarded to state school pupils in 'harder' subjects such as chemistry, physics, further maths and French were awarded to pupils in 164 grammar schools. In 2006, the A-grades in 'harder' subjects awarded to pupils in only 164 grammar schools numbered 11,575 compared with 20,733 awarded to pupils in around 2,500 comprehensive schools.
- A recent ICM opinion poll for the National Grammar Schools Association found 70% of those questioned would support setting up new grammar schools. Only 21% opposed the idea.
- A survey in Northern Ireland, to which more than 200,000 households responded, found 64% opposed Sinn Fein's attempts to abolish academic selection and grammar schools.
Within the last few days, The Sunday Times compared the percentages of pupils at different types of school achieving at least one grade C science GCSE: 47% at comprehensives (which presumably include academies); 86% at independent schools; 95% at grammar schools.
The latest Sunday Telegraph has reported that Labour intends to abandon its £20m national academy for gifted and talented youth, which provides master classes and summer schools for bright children. The 'G & T' programme wasn't much but it did offer something for academic high-fliers.
Yet none of the leaders of the three main parties will defend the remaining grammar schools in England or Northern Ireland, all of which are under direct or indirect threat from politicians
If Mr Cameron wins the election, what is a family living in four-fifths of the country devoid of grammar schools to do, if they have a bright child? Those who can afford it will flee to the independent sector. Those who can't may be doomed to mediocrity.
We all remember Tony 'Bliar', who used similar techniques to close down honest debate. How many people would vote for him now?