Chalk Talk: One in the eye for the Sutton Trust's open-access ideas

Something approaching a frisson of horror appears to strike our politicians at the very thought of debating selection openly. I was trying for three days last week to get a squeak out of both the Department for Education and the Labour opposition over what they thought about the education charity Sutton Trust's founder Sir Peter Lampl's plans for "open access" independent schools, ie, where pupils are selected on merit rather than ability to pay.

Eventually, the Department for Education came back with a statement on Friday evening saying: "Our priority is to transform the state education system so that all children are able to access a good quality of education, regardless of their background."

Sounds like one in the eye for Sir Peter's scheme – although it is a stance I respect. My support for Sir Peter's scheme – declared last month – was predicated on the fact that nothing else had been that sucessful in closing the gap between rich(er) and poor students during the past 30 years.

If the Government's declaring of its priority works, then fine and good. We shall be monitoring the progress here at The Independent.

Secondly, a mea culpa, a blind spot. In a story about the GCSE English fiasco last week I said that the Oxford, Cambridge and Royal Society of Arts was one of the two exam boards facing legal action from schools, pupils and local authorities to get the students' papers re-graded. It is not. The two are the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance and Edexcel.

I seem to have stirred up a veritable hornet's nest with my piece revealing how the eminent scientist Lord (Martin) Rees turned down the offer of £5,000 per guest lecture at the New College for Humanities.

He felt an institution that paid so much to its lecturers and still made a profit did not have students as its main priority.

Professor AC Grayling has been busy writing to both me and Lord Rees about the piece. One thing he raised with me took me by surprise. He warned: "I must insist on one thing: that you do not portray NCH as having an anti-religion agenda. It does not."

I never mentioned religion.

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