The UK needs a wholehearted commitment to comprehensive schooling

Michael Pyke's picture
I have taught for most of my career in comprehensive schools and strongly believe in them, not only because of my personal experiences but because empirical evidence from all over the world shows that they are the most effective model for educating a whole population. However, in the UK their effectiveness is undermined by (a) the fact that we have comprehensive schools but not a universally comprehensive system; (b) the deep rooted British prejudice that only a minority is worth educating; (c) the continued existence of an overpowerful, elitist system of private schools; (d) a political narrative that offers education as an essentially private, rather than public, good to be competed for by means of a quasi-market; (e) an under-educated teaching force which is denied both adequate professional development and proper professional autonomy by meddling and deeply ignorant politicians...I could go on! Since retiring from school teaching I have joined the NEC of CASE and am its media spokesperson.
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Margaret Tulloch's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 15:50

Yes agreed! Two points -

Watch out for the DfE decision on an 'annex' in Sevenoaks 10 miles away from a grammar which could mean more and more grammars in comprehensive areas - as 'annexes'!

Make a date in your diary - we want to bring all comprehensive supporters together at the Comprehensive Future conference on Saturday 21st November in Westminster.

Margaret Tulloch
Comprehensive Future

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 21/05/2015 - 19:41

Not sure I can agree

Labour party have not formed a government since 2010

Need to stop treating electors and their children as chattel as if divine rulers

Free schools respond to human need

Whilst Labour politicians relocate to better boroughs or go selective or private

Never mind committing to comprehensive schooling just commit to schooling

mistemina's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 12:22

Apologies but must disagree Ben.
We cannot blame parents instincts for wanting the best for their children, be it Grammars, preps or private schools.
We can blame ourselves for not having a level playing field for all, not just the rich.

If we do not do this the Social, Economic and Attainment Gap will continue to increase - we all know where that will lead!

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 12:38

Ben - Free Schools, see Sweden. Academies, see US Charter Schools (both failed initiatives).

Comprehensive Schools see everywhere else with high performing national education systems (Ref OECD).

I can't see what the Labour Party (or chattels) has to do with it. Margaret Thatcher created more comprehensive schools than any other SoS for Education.

Arthur Harada's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 13:33

I too spent all my teaching career in state comprehensive schools as well as primary and special schools. Comprehensive education as provided by the state is not the most ideal provision for all children as consumer reseach has proved for decades.
Numerous parents and grandparents who earn their bread and butter teaching in the state system and regularly bang the drum about nasty private school education or selective education such as grammar schools are only too willing to pay for their offspring to be taught in the private sector. In my 40 years I have met countless headteachers, teachers, advisers, inspectors, Labour Party lead councillors for Children's Services and school governors at a range of conferences from 1960 to 2011 including those devoted to such purposes as advancing comprehensive schools or the equal opportuntities agenda only to find so frequently telling me in the bar at night," I agree with comprehensvie schools/ mixed ability classroom etc.But not my child/granchild."
Look to the present front bench of the Labour opposition and there you will see amongst the many who have attended independent schools: Chuka Umunna fee paying St Dunstan's College, Harriet Harmen ( fee paying St Paul's), Diane Abbot who paid for her son to attend an independent school, Andy Burnham who attended Culcheth Comp with its selective streaming policy that enabled him in part to enter Cambridge ( though he claims he couln't understand how he ended up at Cambridge as if by accident!). Two past Labour Secretary of State for Education-Shirley Williams ( raised by socialist agents who sent her to St Paul's) and Ruth Kelly ( Millfield and WestminsterSchool). When Ruth was in office for one of her children was sent to an independent school) . Tony Blair ( prestigous Fettes College) and don't forget all those believers in comprehensive schools who pushed for their offspring to the London Oratory hot house under the guise it was a Catholic faith school.
Case proven

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 25/05/2015 - 16:42

Arthur, you peddling a well worn old chestnut. Anecdotes are not worth a lot but in my entire experience of teaching in comprehensive schools I cannot recall any teacher whose kids were educated outside state schools. You are right to remind us how little the Labour party has done for comprehensive education since Harold Wilson, but so what? It is true that many people with their kids in state schools are too ready to parrot the media inflated stereotype, but in nearly all cases they will also tell you that the comprehensive their child attends is fine - it is only the others that are not up to much. The logical contradiction here is obvious.

Your case is no more than evidence-light prejudice.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 14:41

Arthur - because a few politicians didn't have faith in the comprehensive system doesn't mean the system is failing. It casts shame on the politicians, not the system.

Could you please provide links to the 'consumer research' which proves comprehensive schools aren't working?

The OECD found the best-performing school systems 'combine equity with quality'. It recommends (among other things) that countries should 'Avoid early tracking and defer student selection to upper secondary'. (Note: upper secondary begins at age 15/16)

The arguments against selection have been widely aired on this site, see Melissa Benn 'winning the argument on grammar schools' and Henry Stewart's 'Eleven grammar school myths' here.

These prove the case more than a list of privately-educated Labour politicians (their parents' choice, surely? And perhaps being privately educated alerted them to the unfairness of the system) and politicians who didn't believe their own rhetoric.

emma072012Emma's picture
Mon, 25/05/2015 - 16:08

Hi, all ;i can say is that my husband went to a Catholic Secondary Modern in Essex in the mid 70's. He now has 3 degrees, a Masters, is a Nurse Tutor, has written 6 books and many academic papers. His brother who went to the prestigious RC Grammar School left school at 16 and works in a bank.

I was privately educated, left school with 4 O levels and 1 A level, did various secretarial qualifications and fiddled around doing "non jobs" in upmarket london Art Galleries and the like.
Makes you think doesn't it?

mistemina's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 12:05

Margaret, please keep me informed, we from Bucks will do all we can.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 12:37

Apologies but must disagree Ben.
We cannot blame parents instincts for wanting the best for their children, be it Grammars, preps or private schools.
We can blame ourselves for not having a level playing field for all, not just the rich.

If we continue the education apatite system, we will continue to expand the Social, Economic and Attainment Gaps - we all know where that will lead!

mistemina's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 12:47

Roger, I quoted your ''We can start with the long established pattern that children’s success at school is strongly linked to parental academic qualifications. If we make the further reasonable assumption that parents with better qualifications tend to have better jobs with higher pay and that parents that can afford it tend to move to more ‘up market’ areas of housing then we have a pretty convincing explanation. ''
In a comment in our local newspaper.

Hope this was OK.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 13:01

John - Fine, I am happy to see my book disturbing the murky waters of the 'Bucks Free Press'.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 17:31

For some I will be going over some old ground, but it seems to me that this post, and some of the comments on it are being made in a context which is probably widely taken for granted by, at least some of the LSN requlars.

First of all the schools system in England's main structural division is between non state financed "Independent" schooling on the one hand, which educates overall about six per cent of the school age population, and is financed almost completely by fees paid by parents and that state funded system which is free at the point of use, and by law, may not charge fees.

Some independent schools, especially in London and particularly at the secondary stage are academically selective, setting entrance examinations of various kinds, but others are not, especially at the primary stage. They are all expensive with 14,000 a year being at the low end for school fees.
So being selective on ability is not of the essence of the Independent system.

So we should be clear that the Grammar School versus Comprehensive debate applies only to the state system. For a selective system to work you need:-

1. To decide what age to select at. The debate is almost always couched in terms of 11 plus.

2. To decide what proportion of the ability range go to Grammar Schools. I understand that at the end of the second world war when the 11 plus was introduced it was between five and ten percent of the cohort who were selected. The size of the selected groups depended on the local supply of Grammar School places and so varied around the country. In general there were more places for boys than girls. At that time a little less than that proportion went to university.

If Grammar Schools were to be fully re introduced a decision would have to be made about the correct size of the "upper range" taking into account that more than 40 per cent now go to university.

3. A reliable selection mechanism is needed. When the 11 plus was universal, one of the things that discredited it was the unacceptably high rates of "false negatives" many of whom carried a life long resentment of the experience of being labeled "stupid" barely mitigated in some cases by the subsequent experience of achieving as mature, or part time, or OU students, degrees. A crucial methodological problem in devising suitable tests which have many of the characteristics of IQ tests (with which they will tend to have a strong correlation) is that the stakes being so high, every possible coaching and tutoring device within reach of parents will be deployed. While psychometric tests, uncoached for, can be useful as a diagnostic tool, and to ground advice, coached for their reliability deteriorates. The more they matter, the less accurate they are.

4. In any selective system where a distinction is made between a minority higher ability range and the rest, the majority of children are failures consigned to the Secondary Modern part of the system. The politics of this is simple. Parents will say they want Grammar Schools up to the point their child does not get in to one. And it will be the majority of parents who will be disappointed.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 26/05/2015 - 17:35


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