David Cameron faced an angry backlash last night as he declared that he would not be dragged into a "pointless debate" about creating a new generation of grammar schools.
He spoke out as senior party figures rounded on David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, for ruling out a return to selection under a future Tory government.
Mr Willetts said grammar schools were no longer offering an escape route for children from the poorest backgrounds.
He said the party would focus on expanding city academies, one of Tony Blair's flagship policies.
"We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids," he told the Confederation of British Industry.