Teachers' unions threaten industrial action, every right-wing newspaper acts as cheerleader, and the education secretary falls over herself to give the teachers what they want. There must be a hidden agenda. And in the case of the two boys excluded by a Surrey school after they made threatening and abusive telephone calls to a teacher, and then reinstated by an independent appeals panel, there is.
Glyn Technology School, which they attend, is an example of how selection at 11 is being reintroduced by stealth. Three years ago, the ombudsman upheld the school's policy of selecting 15 per cent of its intake by ability, on the grounds that the school, though itself in comprehensive Surrey, is two miles from the border with the outer London Borough of Sutton, which still has selection. Therefore, it was argued, Glyn needed to select, so as to prevent the brighter pupils being creamed off by Sutton's grammar schools.
As a foundation school, Glyn, though state-financed, is independent of Surrey County Council. But the council still has a statutory duty to find a place for all children in the area. When a foundation school excludes pupils, the council may fulfil this duty by finding them places in a "community school" where its writ still runs. Such schools often teach the children foundation schools don't want.
But these boys are due to take GCSE next summer. As Glyn's head teacher Stuart Turner says, "the other school might be using different examining boards with slightly different curricula".
Estelle Morris, contrary to her account, was not righting a wrong done on a technicality by an appeals panel with no teachers on it. The three-person panel included two experienced teachers, its report is lengthy and careful, and its conclusions do not rely on technicalities. It says that exclusion "was used as a punishment rather than a matter of last resort"; that Turner was wrong to refuse to see the parents before taking his decision; that the death threat "was not taken seriously by Mr Taverner [the teacher who received it] or other members of staff". The panel was "most concerned that the victim is not brushed aside" and squarely blamed the boys, agreeing that they should be punished. But exclusion, which would torpedo their chance of getting good GCSEs, was not right, it said.
And here's the hidden agenda: the right has always had the appeals panels in its sights. If you are going to have a system which divides children early between masters and men, schools for the successful must have the right to choose whom they will teach. An upwardly mobile school like Glyn needs not only to be able to select some of its intake, but to exclude at will, as private, fee-charging schools can. How else can it establish its superiority?
But the mother of one of the pupils, despite abuse from newspapers and a cabinet minister, is determined to put a spanner in the works. Sue Aldred's son has a statement of special needs, and takes six tablets a day of Ritalin for his attention deficit disorder. He did something bad. But all that he is being offered is a pupil referral unit, where he will rub shoulders with some of the hardest cases and will be prepared for three GCSEs instead of 11.
Aldred is going to make sure her son gets a proper education, even if she has to fight the whole British establishment for it. The law is on her side, not Morris's.