Donald Macintyre: Nicky Morgan needs to take comedy lessons

Hunt was pressing her on evidence that the Government had failed to close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils

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Indy Politics

The nun joke was inevitable. Having run into trouble by seeming to disparage the sisters’ teaching abilities on BBC’s Question Time, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt had no doubt braced himself for it. But given that Nicky Morgan had a month to prepare, the result was dismal.

Hunt was pressing her on evidence that the Government had failed to close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils. “I can say without equivocation that it has narrowed,” trilled Ms Morgan. “The 2014 key stage four results showing the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has narrowed by almost 4 per cent since 2012.”

This at least was straight out of the ministerial playbook, which recommends selecting one point which belies a general picture. But then a tut-tutting Hunt suggested her claim would earn “another reprimand from the Statistics Authority”, adding an optimistic flourish about Labour giving “every child an outstanding education” after 8 May.

This was “utter drivel”, exclaimed the Education Secretary. “Labour’s policies on education are a farce – like scenes from Nuns On The Run.” Boom Boom. Almost any reference to the Robbie Coltrane vehicle – even “You may have the nuns on the run but you don’t frighten me” – would have been better.

But then Ms Morgan was determinedly skittish. You don’t have to believe in grammar schools, let alone Ukip, to think that its MP Douglas Carswell’s request for her view on “whether academically selective schools in the state sector can enhance social mobility” deserved better than another Morgan “joke”: “Does he agree with his party’s leader, who said that the party was not going to publish its manifesto until as late as practically possible? May I suggest 8 May?”

Pressed on the controversial plan to open a “satellite” grammar school in Kent, Ms Morgan said she would decide “in due course.” Given that she didn’t say “shortly,” you had to wonder if that meant after the election she was so preoccupied with yesterday.

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