The Sketch: You look at Ms Eagle and think 'spectrum disorder'

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The Independent Online

In dress, coiffure, build and manner, Maria Eagle looks like she's announcing tractor production figures. She is a Soviet stereotype managing our second largest nationalised industry: education. Actually, she's an Education minister, which may not be the same as managing education.

To try and get her nose out of her civil service brief, David Cameron asked her one of those Oxbridge interview questions (she failed).

Dyslexia in private schools, he said, is diagnosed among 22 per cent of the pupils but in state schools the figure was only 2 per cent of pupils. How did she explain this?

She didn't explain it, but she made up for it by using the term "spectrum disorder" a dozen times in the next 10 minutes. We must never look at Ms Eagle without thinking "spectrum disorder". She is a walking, talking spectrum disorder.

Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State, indulged in a little personal therapy by telling us that employers had to value vocational qualifications as much as academic ones.

She doesn't mean it. She doesn't value vocational qualifications as much as academic ones or there'd be a hairdresser on her front bench (and goodness knows they could do with one).

One of the blondes came up with a nice self-contradicting statement (I'm collecting them, if you've noticed any send them in): the trouble with the Conservative Party is that they deal in "slogans not solutions".

It should be on a placard, along with all the other slogans.

The other blonde dealt with the very large rise in "youth inactivity" by saying there was "a problem with national statistics". Doubtless they'll be drafting in better statisticians.

The Tories opened up a useful - that is to say, intelligible - line on school choice. They assert that popular, successful schools should be allowed to expand. Mind you, the Government says exactly the same. Jacqui Smith "strongly supports the expansion of schools" as long as it's sustainable and the Schools National Soviet Committee agrees.

Obviously, school rolls couldn't expand and contract naturally, organically, in a way agreed by head teachers and parents because that (in the words of Labour's Kevan Jones) "would lead to chaos".

So the Government covers off the Kevans of this world as well as the Camerons by "strongly supporting" the expansion of popular successful schools in theory but forbidding it in practice. In seven years, no schools have been allowed to expand. None. Not one. Oh, all right, eight have.

Out of 25,000 schools, eight have been allowed to increase, as the minister told us. You reel, don't you? A Tory cited a primary school in his area that wanted to take on 25 more pupils; the edu-soviets spent tens of thousands of pounds in the High Court to stop them doing so. Expansion would going to infringe the class size target, Minister Smith told the House in her specially soothing voice. It made me cough blood.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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