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Ruth Kelly

Comprehensive Education

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Labour has a vision where people are not just left to the mercy of market forces but are equipped to achieve in a market economy. It is a vision founded on many streams of progressive thought - from 19th-century New Liberal thinkers through to social democratic revisionists like Tony Crosland.

It's a vision for a third-term Labour government that builds on the success we've achieved. But a vision for our education system to complete a shift from one where "comprehensive schools" have been the focus, to one where achieving a "genuine comprehensive education" becomes our objective.

I see no contradiction in strong, autonomous schools working together. We've cre ated schools that excel because they have a clear mission and purpose, but we still need them to work together if they are to achieve their full potential.

The comprehensive ideal remains powerful. The belief that drove politicians like Crosland should drive us now. It is a passion that all children, from whatever background, are alike in their capacity to reason, to imagine, to aspire to a successful life. In the 60s this meant rejecting the flawed science and injustice of the 11-plus and it meant radical surgery for a system in which children's futures were, in large part, decided on one day when they were 11.

It was the right thing to do at the time, but the comprehensive system created in the 60s and 70s had limitations. There was little agreement on what it meant to provide a high-quality education once children were inside the school gate. Schools tended to take on a single model, with little scope for developing distinctive character or mission. The creation of "good" middle-class and "bad" working-class comprehensive schools was not predicted. And parents and pupils were not at the heart of reform.

This does not mean we should return to selection, nor will we. Comprehensive schools have raised standards and done well for many, but they do not seem to have been the universal engine of social mobility and equality that Crosland hoped they would be. They played a vital role in overcoming the institutionalised two-tierism that was inherent in selection, but for too many people they have not delivered what today we call social justice.

The facts on social mobility are depressing. As the middle classes expanded after the war, there was considerable movement. But since the early 60s academic surveys tell us that mobility has declined. Studies show that for people in their 30s, the social class of their parents matters more than it did in the past.

This is why we must move from thinking merely about comprehensive schools to a vision of a genuinely comprehensive education system for all. First, we need to create a comprehensive and tailored education system within schools. But we also need a genuinely comprehensive local system and we need a system that educates children from three to 19.

Differences between schools shape children's life chances, but different experiences within schools are just as vital. This is why my vision is of a learning experience which recognises that when children excel they should be stretched and that when they need extra help, they should get it. Sometimes this can occur within a classroom, but I want government to support schools and the teaching profession to develop further the role of tuition in smaller groups.

The second element of change is fashioning a truly comprehensive education system. The needs and aspirations of individual pupils are so varied, it is unlikely that any single institution will be able to fulfil them satisfactorily.

As more schools become specialists, as we encourage greater innovation, diversity and experimentation, the system as a whole will become more varied. Teenagers should be able to study at a school, a sixth-form, a college and a workplace. But only when teachers, lecturers, teaching assistants and employers collaborate will they get the best from the system.

So let's not forget that education is not just about schools. Children learn from the moment they are born. And education and learning cannot just be allowed to stop at 16. We want to effectively make the old school leaving age a thing of the past.

We should be careful not to confuse means and ends. If improved life chances and greater equality of opportunity is our goal, we should be willing to adapt the comprehensive ideal. By drawing on the best of comprehensive schools, but by making our education system work for all, we have a real opportunity, in a third term, to fundamentally change life chances and be a historic force for social justice.

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By drawing on the best of comprehensive schools, but by making our education system work for all, we have a real opportunity, in a third term, to fundamentally change life chances and be a historic force for social justice.

Stop splitting your infinitives!

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But what does she really mean? Distinct separate schools for different "streams" as in Holland for instance? And what does she mean by "the role of tuition in smaller groups"? It all sounds somewhat waffly, besides being poor English.

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Labour has a vision where people are not just left to the mercy of market forces but are equipped to achieve in a market economy. It is a vision founded on many streams of progressive thought - from 19th-century New Liberal thinkers through to social democratic revisionists like Tony Crosland....

We should be careful not to confuse means and ends. If improved life chances and greater equality of opportunity is our goal, we should be willing to adapt the comprehensive ideal. By drawing on the best of comprehensive schools, but by making our education system work for all, we have a real opportunity, in a third term, to fundamentally change life chances and be a historic force for social justice.

It is easy to see why union leaders have described Ruth Kelly as the “worse secretary of state for education” in living memory. Like her boyfriend she has no understanding of the reasons why the comprehensive education system was introduced. She is under the false impression that it was about creating “equality of opportunity”. It was not. That is something that all politicians, including those on the far right, say they are in favour of. This became the policy of the Conservative Party in the early 1950s. They had to adopt this policy as a result of the popular policies introduced by the Labour government after the war (1945-51).

Members of the Labour Party who campaigned for the introduction of comprehensive education did not do because they wanted “equality of opportunity”. They did so because they wanted “equality by outcome”. They were Socialists, not modern Tories.

Nor did they believe you could get equality by the introduction of comprehensive education. There was a substantial amount of sociological research available by the early 1960s that showed that factors other than schools were far more important in determining academic performance.

To obtain greater social equality in education needed government action in a wide variety of different areas. The introduction of comprehensive schools was only part of this programme. To work it needed all schools to become comprehensive. It did not mean that some areas should be allowed to have grammar schools. Nor did those early supporters of comprehensive education envisage the continuance of private schools. Clearly, it was never going to be possible to provide “equal opportunities” for all children if you allow parents to buy their children a “superior education”. This is of course what Tony Blair’s parents did and it shows. Blair’s own actions as a parent shows he does not believe in “equal opportunities” for all children.

Blair’s government has not closed down any grammar schools nor as it interfered with the private school system. It has done nothing to introduce comprehensive education. In fact, it has done several things to increase inequalities within the state education sector. This has been mainly done by allowing certain schools to spend more per head on pupils than other schools in the area. This has been done with the introduction of specialist schools. In this way the government has created this inequality by encouraging commercial sponsorship of schools.

For example, take the case of East Grinstead. It is a town with two secondary schools. Both were built in the 1950s. One of these schools was a grammar school, and the other one was a secondary modern school. The grammar school spent more per pupil than the secondary modern school. The grammar school was also able to select its pupils via the 11+ exam. Understandably, the grammar school achieved better exam results than the secondary school.

Eventually, the Conservative controlled local council succumbed to government pressure and made both schools comprehensive. Within a very short period both schools obtained a reputation of providing a good education. This reputation was reinforced by the publication of the league tables that showed that there was little difference in the way that these two schools were performing. As a result parents sent their children to the nearest school.

When Tony Blair introduced his specialist status programme one of the town’s schools applied for it. They were helped by the fact that one of their governors held a senior position at BA and had little difficulty obtaining the necessary sponsorship. The school was accepted as a specialist school and in doing so, not only got £50,000 a year from BA but £100,000 extra from the government plus £123 per pupil more than the other school in the town.

The other school quickly put in a bid to become a specialist school. This was rejected as there was already a specialist school in the town.

The specialist school was now able to spend a great deal more on the education of its pupils. Class sizes went down and exam results went up. Now parents began to opt for the specialist school rather than the nearest school to their home. The specialist school became over-subscribed and this enabled the head to select the pupils he did not want in his school. These, often with behavioural problems, were forced to go to the other school.

This town now reverted to the segregated system it had in the 1950s. Comprehensive education in the town had been destroyed.

In 2003 an education select committee reported that the government had spent £400 million in creating 992 specialist schools. The committee reported that there was little evidence to suggest that specialist schools improve overall standards. In fact, it pointed out that the policy “has had the effect of increasing the gap between high and low achieving schools rather than reducing it.”

Blair apparently accepted his mistake and announced that in future all secondary schools will now become specialist schools. The other school in East Grinstead has now been allowed to become a specialist school. However, the damage has been done and it will take many years before the schools obtain equal status in the eyes of the community.

Blair’s latest measure to create inequality in the state system is to introduce city academies. To encourage sponsors he has allowed commercial companies to influence the school curriculum. One wealthy businessman, who is also a Christian fundamentalist, has been allowed to takeover two schools where creationism is now taught.

Is it possible to create a comprehensive school system? Yes. Take the example of Finland.

Aaccording to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Finland has the best education system in the world. A few weeks ago Finland came top of the world’s literacy rankings (OECD/Unesco).

Tony Blair might be interested in the way the education system is organized in Finland.

(1) All schools are comprehensive.

(2) Children go to the same school from 6 to 16.

(3) There is no selection involved. All children are taught in mixed ability classes.

(4) Children do not take national exams at any stage between 6 and 16.

(5) The school inspectors do not publish their reports. The reports are instead feedback to the teachers in order “to help staff develop”.

(6) There are no school league tables in Finland.

(7) Only 3% of children drop out of education at 16 in Finland. 70% go on to university and 27% to vocational schools.

(8) Teachers are highly valued in Finland. Opinion polls show that teaching is usually in the top two desired professions to get into. There are on average 10 applications for every job advertised.

http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/st...1042479,00.html

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Writing in the Guardian's Comment pages, the education secretary ruled out a return to comprehensive schools, a disguised retort to claims that academies will become two-tiered, selecting students on ability to meet targets.

Ms Kelly will also outline her vision for a seamless education for all pupils, regardless of their abilities, for three to 19-year-olds, leading to the divide between nursery, primary and secondary schools essentially disappearing and becoming less strict.

What the heck does a "seamless education" actually mean in practice? Is she for or against comprehensives? Sorry, perhaps I'm dumb, but i can't tell what she's actually saying??

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Inn Australia we have many of the features of the Finnish system - no league tables, no exams, no inspections, in the state system all schools are comprehensive with mixed ability classes, with no entry requirements and many of our students go straight from the nearby primary to the local secondary. However, teachers are not respected, they are not valued, and not well paid. I think the very different attitudes to social justice and social responsibility in Scandinavian countries is the biggest deterrent to this.

But as I said before, what is our govt about to do? All the things that have proved to be a failure or problematic in the UK and the US. The more things change etc etc.

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