The Ebdon Question came back to the Commons. It's quite a long question, but it goes like this: "Why would a dull, dusty, rule-bound, education bureaucrat running a college with a 20 per cent drop-out rate from NVQ courses in Carnival Skills and Coronation St Studies be put in charge of getting more poor students into the dreaming spire universities which are still a global byword for academic excellence?"
He did make a very poor impression on the committee at his confirmation hearing. So much so that they deconfirmed him. But to no avail as Vince Cable, his sponsor, reconfirmed him.
Ebdon was the most prominent critic of Cable's tuition fees Bill, so who knows what's going on. Liberal Democrats playing both sides of the net, perhaps.
Though the argument splits out on party lines, there's a consensus on the problem. Edward Leigh mentioned the 50 students out of 80,000 on free school meals who get into Oxbridge. Ian Lucas told us just five students from Wrexham made it there in the five years to 2010. Stephen Lloyd said that two or three independent schools get more pupils in than 2,000 state schools put together.
If you are of the left you will see this as the educated bourgeoisie maintaining its class privilege. Poor children are made to eat chillies at the interview while tutors scream at them: "How do you know you're not a dolphin?" And Etonians are asked: "Do you think it's too early for a gin and tonic?" So Ebdon answers for the Labour party when he says the elite universities should be forced to take more poor pupils or have their funding cut.
The right make a series of inconvenient points. Edward Leigh: "After 50 years of comprehensive education, it's clear there was more social mobility when there was a grammar school in every town." Or Liz Truss explaining the impossibility of half comprehensive pupils studying science at Oxbridge because they can't do further maths in their sixth forms.
Or Nicola Blackwood that interviewers bend over backwards to help applicants through the interviews.
But if independent schools are 55 times more likely to get their pupils into Oxbridge – what happens if all schools are made independent? Michael Gove wasn't there to make the point, but that's his plan. Will it work? That really is a question.Reuse content