Myth One ‘Comprehensive education has failed’

Janet Downs's picture
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.
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mistemina's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 13:35

The majority of Bucks Secondary Moderns are below 'Good' per Ofsted. We can testify to the statement of 'highly unpopular secondary moderns'.

I hasten to add these schools are not unpopular in the like/dislike manner.
In fact, those of us that understand, hold for the Heads and teaching Staff at our Secondary Modern in the highest esteem. When one looks at their results and takes into account the cohort these schools have to handle, they are over-achieving.
This is unsustainable and massively unfair.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/02/2015 - 14:05

Exactly, John. Non-selective schools in selective areas lose high-achieving pupils to grammar schools. They are then slated for their results, criticised for being low down in league tables and dubbed 'failing'.

Helen Saunders's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 14:45

This book looks so interesting I wish I had a kindle.
We live in a "selective area" but the non-selective school our child attended achieved very good results and offered so many opportunities both within the curriculum and outside it. For example an extra language GCSE was offered to a small group including our child in after school lessons, to make room for other subjects.
Children do extremely well at this comprehensive and receive a great all-round education, better than that on offer at a local grammar school, in our experience.
In Stroud we are now waiting for the decision for a second time on a Steiner free school bid. Supporters of this kind of so-called "alternative" education, whilst withholding the nature of the belief system behind it - anthroposophy- and its role in the schools, disparage comprehensives constantly, using exactly the myths you refer to in your book. It is a very effective strategy - I have spoken to parents who have become so frightened by the myths they hear in kindergartens about mainstream education that they say they will home-educate if the Steiner school does not open.
I would like to see a copy of this book available for every parent who thinks that a religious/occult free school would be better for their child than the existing state schools in our town.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/02/2015 - 16:55

Helen - there's a 'Look Inside' facility on Amazon which gives limited access to parts of the book.

It's a ploy often used by free school proposers, sadly, to rubbish local schools and claim they will offer a better alternative. Some have claimed they're 'outstanding' before even opening which has got them wrapped over the knuckles by Advertising Standards.

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