This is the first of five extracts from our book School Myths: And the Evidence That Blows Them Apart.
A wide range of voices across the political spectrum now agree that not only is comprehensive education consistent with excellence but as a school system it forms the best basis for more equal and cohesive social relations. Writing to the Guardian in 2010, Selina Todd, vice principal of St Hilda’s Oxford, spoke of how her college welcomes ‘applications from comprehensive school students, not because these candidates can do well in spite of their school, but because their education offers them an excellent foundation for university. Many comprehensives offer imaginative lessons, encourage independent study, and provide an unparalleled social education. Being educated alongside pupils from a wide range of backgrounds gives these candidates the ability to negotiate cultural and social difference in debate, and the confidence to relate abstract or scholarly theory to the wider society in which they live.’
Todd’s argument is supported by Daily Mail journalist Sarah Vine, wife of the former education secretary, Michael Gove - the first ever Conservative education secretary to choose a state school for his child. Writing about her own comprehensive education Vine said that unlike private schools, ‘they provided me with a broad education…in life. And in the realisation that you shouldn't judge people by their clothes, or where they live, but by who they really are regardless of circumstances; that kids studying to be hairdressers deserve as much respect as those wanting to be rocket scientists.’
For all the myth-making about comprehensive education, no public figure would ever seriously suggest - or at least, not publicly - the return of the once highly unpopular secondary moderns, or dare imply some children are simply not worth educating properly. No mainstream political grouping, bar UKIP, argues for the return of the grammars. The shared educational credo of most political parties in the early 21st century is that every child, regardless of background, should be given access to the widest range of knowledge to the highest standard. That credo is a testament to the success of comprehensive education.
We’ll be posting more short extracts over the next few days. The book is available for Kindle from Amazon at £3.