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John Simkin

The Myth of Comprehensive Education

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In 1995 David Blunkett, the then shadow education secretary said at the Labour Party Conference “read my lips: no selection”. However, as another Labour Party MP, David Chaynor, has admitted recently: “Every policy we’ve introduced (since 1997) has made this process more selective.”

The Blair government has done this by protecting the remaining grammar schools while widening selection elsewhere, with the introduction of specialist schools and the promotion of expanded faith schools.

It has been clear for sometime that Blair is attempting to undermine the principles of comprehensive education. As a former public school boy he has never been a supporter of this key area of Labour education policy. However, it is surprising that he has been allowed to get away with it. This is partly because most Labour politicians are willing to sell out all their beliefs in order to get promotion.

The other factor concerns Labour’s “focus groups” of floating voters. It soon became clear that education was a primary concern for these voters. Parents understandably want their children to be educated in the best schools available. This is also true of the working-class but as we know, they are less likely to vote in elections. If they do, education is not as important issue as it is to the middle classes. Blair therefore concluded that educational policy must be developed that satisfies that middle-class families who were not diehard Tory supporters and potential Labour voters. This of course has meant the undermining of comprehensive education.

One of the first things Blunkett did when he became education secretary in 1997 was to appoint Sir Cyril Taylor as his chief adviser. Taylor was a member of the Conservative Party who was a well-known critic of comprehensive education. Later Taylor was appointed as chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust.

The Sutton Trust has just carried out a survey of the top 200 state schools (based on GCSE results). They then looked at data provided by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). They have discovered that the vast majority of these “high-achieving” schools have developed very complicated admissions procedures, which includes aptitude tests and interviewing parents. The conclusion is that schools are using the admission procedures to covertly select middle class children in order to improve exam results.

This high-ranking in the league tables has resulted in high-income families moving into the school’s catchment area. Apparently, they do this to save money paying private school fees. This in itself increases its ranking in the league-table.

As a result of this activity, those schools with poor examination results, find it extremely difficult to attract local students who have shown academic potential at primary school. This of course makes it even more difficult for these schools to improve its exam results.

According to the National Foundation for Educational Research, the average proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (the standard measure for deprivation) in UK schools is 14%. In the top 200 schools (based on GCSE results) it is 3%.

As Sir Peter Lampi of the Sutton Trust has pointed out, as a result of these selection procedures: “The best state schools in the country are effectively closed to the majority of less well-off families. We’ve replaced an education system which selected on ability with one that is socially selective: the best comprehensive serve the relatively affluent.”

According to other research, parents’ income as an indicator of how well a child will do in school has become even more pronounced now than under the Conservatives.

As Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee said recently: “This research pinpoints what is happening in our leading state schools and how the more socially disadvantaged pupils are being dramatically short changed, even if they live close to a good school, by a system that favours affluent families.”

Sheerman and the rest of the cowardly Labour MPs are unlikely to make a fuss. Labour is no longer the party of the poor and disadvantaged. Who cares about them anymore, after all, they rarely vote anyway. Labour, like the Tories, is the party of those who have done well out of our capitalist system.

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The only thing that is comprehensive in education is the rhetoric.

In his book Re-imagine, management guru, Tom Peters illustrates the problem in the following terms:

! RANT WE ARE NOT PREPARED ...

We attempt to "reform" an educational system that was designed for the Industrial Age --for a Fordist era in which employers need uniformly "trained," interchangeable "parts" ("workers" in collars both blue and white). Yet now we must prepare for a world in which value emerges from individual initiative and creativity. And we must reject all notions of "reform" that merely serve up more of the same: more testing, more "standards," more uniformity, more conformity, more bureaucracy.

! VISION I imagine...

I imagine a school system that recognizes that learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that learning is passionate learning.

I imagine a school curriculum that values questions above answers...creativity above fact regurgitation...individuality above uniformity...and excellence above standardized performance.

I imagine a society that respects its teachers and principals, pays them well, and (most important) grants them the autonomy to do their job...as the creative individuals they are, and for the creative individuals in their charge.

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What did the Labour party imagine when it chose Tony Blair as its leader? The man is so Tory as to be out of sight. This week's reversal of two decades of Labour policy on secondary education is breathtaking. Apart from a peep of protest from John Prescott it appears to have passed the cabinet nem con. These days Blair could invade the Sudetenland and Poland without Labour objecting.

The education white paper offers a vision of a "parent-led" state secondary-school system. Its key institution is the "self-governing school free to parents", a copy of the Tories' grant-maintained school that Labour once derided. Parents will be able to control a school's "ethos and individualism". As one parent briskly put it to me, "We can keep out the blacks."

Whether British schools are so broke as to need this surgery must be moot. But it shows how far the political ecology has shifted under Blair. The 11-plus failed in the 1960s because it excluded from the best secondary schools some two-thirds of children. By 1965 this had become politically untenable. Both parties accepted the advent of non-selective schooling after 11, albeit in some areas postponed to 14 or 16.

The reform has broadly held. When Margaret Thatcher was education secretary in 1970 she dared not reverse it. Only in the big cities were comprehensives seriously unpopular with some parents, largely because of the preponderance of ethnic minorities. Criticism also tended to be of their size and the quality of their teaching, failings that could be met without blasting the system apart. As Peter Hyman said on these pages on Monday, what bad schools need is better teaching and resources, not bureaucracy and ritual humiliation.

The politics of the white paper holds that if a critical mass of each age group can be detached from the lumpen comprehensive mass, then middle-class parents will stay in the state sector. This is achieved, says Blair, by offering them "a range of good schools from which to choose". This is fantasy. Most parents cannot and do not want to roam the country in search of the "school of their choice", even if the transport system could stand the strain. They want the school closest to where they live to be an excellent one, period. In most countries, even in Blair's beloved Sweden, this is achieved through community ownership and leadership, not a cooperative of transient parents.

A child's schooling is not a hospital operation. It is a seven-year decision laden with social connotations. That is why, as Blair well knows, the only choice in education (other than to go private) is of parents by schools. Put parents in charge of schools and they will choose parents like themselves. The 11-plus was at least an objective test of aptitude. The white paper evokes prewar social selection.

It is worth asking why the Tories' identical reform failed. Blair's amanuensis, Lord Adonis, must have copied the white paper almost verbatim from the Baker 1988 act and the Patten 1993 one. They too were motivated by antagonism towards local government. They too tried to induce parents to remove their schools from council to central government control. They were even given a 15% budgetary bribe to do so.

In 1990, Thatcher ordered a policy paper on "unbundling" local education authorities, as has Blair. Like him, she could not imagine a school wanting to stay stifled by a "hard-left" council. Special institutions, city technology colleges, were set up with private money. They cost four times as much as locally commissioned schools. Labour's equivalent, city academies, cost five times as much. One thing Whitehall does not do is economy.

Despite a frantic ministerial sales campaign, the innovation failed. Just 4% of schools opted to become "grant-maintained", almost all small ones threatened with closure. Parents seemed content with local councils and reluctant to burden themselves with school politics. In addition, the nationalised industry formed to run this new state sector, the Funding Agency for Schools, instantly smothered them in barrow-loads of bumf. Autonomy under the state is always a contradiction in terms.

More lethal was the Treasury. It has long wanted a National School Service to parallel the NHS. Falling rolls - London is said to have 50 schools too many - require capacity planning. Any drift towards institutional freedom would vitiate that. Having brought school budgets under central control in the 1980s, the Treasury now wanted to control the spending. In spite of pledges in 1988 that popular schools would be allowed to expand at will, the Treasury banned it. It ordered Whitehall to vet school plans to ensure efficient use of capacity.

Blair said on Monday that there would be no such dirigisme, yet he added that the Treasury would retain a "strategic role" and that school investment would be "agreed by local heads and governors". What does that mean? There is no sign that the Treasury has surrendered control of school building, teachers' pay or common funding. It is trust/foundation hospitals all over again.

Letting popular schools expand is the one (revived) innovation in Blair's plan. But the last thing a good school will want to do is admit less-able pupils through parent choice, pupils who will depress its league-table ranking. Nor, unless it is wholly privatised, will it want the bother of running an adjacent failing school as proposed. The incentive is to take independence at face value and restrict numbers to good pupils, this being the essence of its popularity.

Unless, as I believe will happen, the Treasury again calls a halt to all this, then push will come to shove over sixth forms. Under Blair's chaotic pseudo-market, sixth forms will concentrate in ever fewer exclusive schools, leaving local comprehensives unable to sustain theirs. All the reform will have done is reduce the number of rejected 11-year-olds from two-thirds of the age group presumably to a minority, a minority that will define itself as underachieving and poor. The despised "bog-standard comprehensive" will revert to being the bog-standard secondary modern, closing at age 16. That is the logical outcome of this reform. We will then start again by reinventing the comprehensive school.

This is the what, in a blizzard of spin, the dear old Labour party has just bought. Amazing.

http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/st...1600743,00.html

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What did the Labour party imagine when it chose Tony Blair as its leader? The man is so Tory as to be out of sight. This week's reversal of two decades of Labour policy on secondary education is breathtaking. Apart from a peep of protest from John Prescott it appears to have passed the cabinet nem con. These days Blair could invade the Sudetenland and Poland without Labour objecting.

The proposals announced yesterday is just the latest evidence that Blair is the most outrageous reactionary in the history of the Labour Party. Like Ramsay MacDonald he has been “turned”. Maybe, he was never a socialist and infiltrated the labour movement as a “sleeper” in the 1970s.

As Simon Jenkins point out, the most amazing thing is that the party has let him get away with it. At least in 1931 the vast majority of Labour MPs realized what was going on and rebelled. This bunch of careerist cowards have hardly made a murmur. According to reports in today’s newspapers, Labour MPs listened in silence yesterday as the proposals were announced. The Tories on the other hand cheered. As Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher’s Education Secretary, pointed out this morning: “I am delighted that the government is bringing forward the same proposals that I introduced in 1988. In effect, they are re-establishing grant-maintained schools”. Yes indeed. At the time the Labour Party rightly fought this measure. Once they gained power they allowed grant-maintained schools to “wither on the vine”.

What is Tony Blair and his lapdog Ruth Kelly up to? Here is a summary of the proposals:

Every school will be encouraged to become a self-government trust school, backed by business, charities or faith groups. They will have the same powers and freedoms as “independent schools”. They will be able to appoint their own governing body, set their own admissions policy, employ their own staff and have greater control over the curriculum.

The government will continue to hold powers over schools. For example, on Monday, our great prime minister announced that schools will be expected to bring an end to “mixed ability” teaching.

These government powers will be used to force schools to become “independent”. For example, schools deemed to be failing will be given 12 months to improve before being forced to close. After “a competition for new providers” takes place, it will then reopen as an “independent” school. Successful schools (those that have good exam results) will have the powers to takeover neighbouring schools.

The most controversial aspect of the proposals concerns admission policies. Schools will now be free to select the most academic students applying for a place at the school. This means that those currently with the best exam results, will be able to improve the quality of its entrants. In this way its exam results will improve further. In other words, it is a return to the grammar school system.

Blair and Kelly has claimed this will not happen as it will also be establishing what it calls an “admissions code of practice”. This will encourage schools to carry out tests on those applying for a place at the school. It is suggested that the school then takes a fair share of each “ability band”. This is of course only advisory and virtually all heads will use these tests to get as many bright children as possible into their school. Who can blame them, after all, they are judged mainly by the exam performance of their students.

These proposals will not hurt the middle-classes. The vast majority will get their children into the best schools available. This was the situation in the pre-comprehensive school era. In fact, the proposed system is even more biased in favour of the middle-classes as schools can take into account the class background of the parents, something that was not directly done with the 11+ (although the exam was always something that measured class background).

Teachers will also be able to get their own children into these “good” schools. However, a large number of teachers will be forced to teach in the remaining “sink” schools. Life will not be very pleasant for you. There is also a good chance that you will receive less pay (payment by results).

The teaching unions are united in their opposition to this proposed plan. Let us hope they remain united. Educationalists will probably need to take to the streets to make sure this legislation is not passed (the Tories will of course go into the lobbies with the government over this issue). This is another Poll Tax or Iraq War. Tony Blair cannot be allowed to get away with this one. He must not be allowed to use education in order to increase inequality in our society.

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Guest Stephen Turner

None of this of course should come as any great surprise to anybody. With the abandonment of clause four, New Labour freed itself from any commitment to equality, no matter how symbolic that commitment had been. The clause had been cobbled together by the Webb's in 1918, in an attempt to forestall any Bolshevik type revolution in GB. The Blairite takeover of traditional Labour has been nothing short of a Coup detat, and every word from his mouth, whether on Education, Trade Unions, social housing, transport, crime etc, exposes him for what he is, a free market reactionary Conservative. Perhaps the Webb's should have led the revolution instead of buying it off.

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Frankly, as I've been following the proposals since Monday, often with my parents and children (as it's half term) I have regularly felt like crying. Now this comes from a 'hard as nails' revolutionary, but the way some of these people believe they can manipulate anything to suit themselves has left me wondering "what will it take?"

In my lighter moments I've felt convinced that Blair is actually a better Revolutionary than VI Ulyanov - because surely what he's doing is to make revolution the ONLY alternative to lemming-like herding of society toward the nihilistic ending of a pure market model for all sectors.

The recent white paper puts the TLR issue into a new light, which I feared my be the case - breaking the national agreements on pay and terms and conditions in order to 'deregulate' education. It had happened elsewhere in education in hte 1990s, and friends of mine who were then on the 'Silver Book' were dismayed at how easily AUCL/NATFHE gave up the struggle, in order 'not to rock the boat' so that Labout might get in. Some years later, Labour, or some bastardised version of it, is in and..... There is little precendence in the l(post 1978/9?) labour movement to take on a government; that part of their history has been forgotten, or sold, or given away.

Anyone who has watched Brassed Off, The Full Monty or Billy Elliot (to name a few) might wonder how our labour movement allowed such horrors in the 1980s. There is no need to go any further than the Labour Party of the late 1970s, ie fice or six years before Blair even became an MP. The adoption of monetarism and its premises by Callaghan and co was the real end of even the vaguest socialist ideology within the party.

However, we could spend hours or months debating when where why (or even if, I guess) the socialist dream within the Labour Party (new or old) died.

What 'the left' or anyone else who cares about education (social housing - the list goes on) must do is work out a strategy to stop the attacks and reverse them.... Any suggestions??

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Guest Stephen Turner
.

Anyone who has watched Brassed Off, The Full Monty or Billy Elliot (to name a few) might wonder how our labour movement allowed such horrors in the 1980s. There is no need to go any further than the Labour Party of the late 1970s, ie fice or six years before Blair even became an MP. The adoption of monetarism and its premises by Callaghan and co was the real end of even the vaguest socialist ideology within the party.

However, we could spend hours or months debating when where why (or even if, I guess) the socialist dream within the Labour Party (new or old) died.

What 'the left' or anyone else who cares about education (social housing - the list goes on) must do is work out a strategy to stop the attacks and reverse them.... Any suggestions??

Ed, I suspect that like any fever it must run its course. of course it will do a lot of structural damage before its finished, but unfortunately most people seem unable to learn this, except though personal pain, and loss. Whats comming, I suspect, is a world wide depression that will rival the 1930's in ferocity, and destruction. Sorry to be so defeatist, but given the setbacks suffered by working class movements over the last 30 odd years, I am finding it hard to be optimistic. Steve.

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I take it that the more progressive Welsh and Scottish education systems will be exempt from this latest batch of nincompoopery?

Yes, it is becoming increasingly embarrassing for Blair to see Scotland and Wales being run by a combination of socialists, liberals and nationalists.

The government’s decision on smoking in pubs and clubs is another example of this. A letter in the Guardian today makes the point very well.

Let me see if I've got this right: the MP for St Helens South, in his role as health minister for Northern Ireland, has banned all smoking in pubs in the province, but the people in his own constituency will still be exposed to other people's smoke in pubs because the MP for Airdrie and Shotts has in effect vetoed similar legislation for England, while his constituents north of the border will experience a total ban because the policy in Scotland has been devolved to the Scottish parliament. And we lecture the world on democracy. (Colin Burke)

This one was pretty good as well:

Why can't we wage effective wars on major public health threats when the evidence is so strong? Britain can wage a war, using enormous resources but a feeble evidence base, on Iraq because of Tony Blair's belief that that country had "weapons of mass destruction" which did not exist.

Yet when it comes to waging war on the major public-health killers that claim hundreds of thousands of lives each year in the UK through products supplied by the tobacco, alcohol and food industries, what did we find yesterday? The government will apparently propose a ban on smoking in some workplaces, yet leave the most vulnerable communities and workers unprotected.

not have the freedom to work in smoke-free environments. There will shortly be, however, protection from tobacco exposure for all Scottish and Northern Irish workers.

Oh yes, and those Labour party commitments and manifesto promises which must apparently be honoured to protect smoking in private clubs and pubs not serving food? In 1997 the Labour party conference promised to bring in a law on corporate killing; a commitment that was repeated in the 2001 Labour party manifesto. We are still waiting. It seems that negligent employers will be free to kill employees at work with impunity, but only in England and Wales, with tobacco smoke. So much for individual rights, Dr Reid. (Andrew Watterson)

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Ed, I suspect that like any fever it must run its course. of course it will do a lot of structural damage before its finished, but unfortunately most people seem unable to learn this, except though personal pain, and loss. Whats comming, I suspect, is a world wide depression that will rival the 1930's in ferocity, and destruction. Sorry to be so defeatist, but given the setbacks suffered by working class movements over the last 30 odd years, I am finding it hard to be optimistic. Steve.

If we, who can see the past and see where it might lead, offer nothing, then indeed there is no hope.

It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees - Dolores Ibarruri

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Guest Stephen Turner

Ed, I suspect that like any fever it must run its course. of course it will do a lot of structural damage before its finished, but unfortunately most people seem unable to learn this, except though personal pain, and loss. Whats comming, I suspect, is a world wide depression that will rival the 1930's in ferocity, and destruction. Sorry to be so defeatist, but given the setbacks suffered by working class movements over the last 30 odd years, I am finding it hard to be optimistic. Steve.

If we, who can see the past and see where it might lead, offer nothing, then indeed there is no hope.

It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees - Dolores Ibarruri

Ed,you are right of course, and I dont mean to come across like the ex Socialist in ragged trousered philanthropists, but after thirty odd years of fighting the good fight sometimes, just sometimes mind you can get a bit tired. I first became active in the biulders strike of 72, marched with the miners in the same year, and again in 74 ( who runs the country Mr Heath?) and near enough every left wing cause since, including Chile, Portugal in 75 on strike for 4 months 79 winter of discontent, 81 steel strike my father in law was a fitter at the Corby works, Great miners strike, stood on their picket lines on many occasions and witnessed the utter violence of the State, Wapping the next year. Oh I forgot Grunwick in 77so please excuse my cynical words. you see we lost nearly every one. But perhaps, just perhaps Tomorrow belongs to us, for a change. Steve.

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I take it that the more progressive Welsh and Scottish education systems will be exempt from this latest batch of nincompoopery?

Since the devolution bill in 1999, the Welsh have removed all the daft legislation brought in by the Tories and maintained by New Labour. This includes the removal of testing at key stages 1, 2 and 3 and the non-publication of league tables. There are no specialist schools or academies. In fact, unlike England, Wales still has a community comprehensive system of education.

The Welsh will not be adopting Blair's new proposals for "independent" schools. The only aspect of the 2005 Education Bill they will be adopting is the section on the new higher standards of food served on school premises.

The education spokesman of the Tories in Wales, William Graham, of course loved Blair's proposals, however, he has no power to implement them.

As Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru pointed out in yesterday's Guardian: "Education is too important to allow outside interests to have a controlling interest in the curriculum. Tony Blair has turned the education clock back. Here in Wales, we have a system where education isn't divided along sectional interests. You get the feeling that policy in Westminster is being made primarily for the benefit of pushy middle-class parents within the M25, who are not bothered what happens to their neighbour's children providing their own are getting a good deal. The new proposals haven't gone down well here, and they won't go down well with traditional labour supporters in England. Blair will almost certainly have to rely on Conservative votes to get his measures through."

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Some letters on this issue in today's Guardian:

Surely the Guardian, opposition MPs and teachers' leaders are completely missing the point about city academies (City academies accused of deserting poor, October 31). I thought they were meant to attract increasing numbers of local middle-class, higher-achieving children from possibly more affluent family backgrounds to engender a more representative cross-section of the community.

In my experience, if a school, especially a secondary school, is completely made up of poor, deprived, low-achieving children it is impossible for pupils or the school to achieve very much, no matter how much money is thrown at the problem. A "gang" culture of "non-achievement" tends to develop and any child wanting to learn is pilloried as a "swot", "nerd" or "geek".

I am chair of governors of an inclusive primary school in an area of high deprivation in Tottenham, where any potentially high-achieving child becomes isolated because they have no peer group to work with, especially in years 4, 5 and 6. This because the few more affluent parents move away in key stage 2 to get a chance of a better secondary school.

At our school we certainly would welcome more active, better educated, middle-class parents and children to redress the balance. Any "good" school needs a good cross-section of people if it is to improve standards and not become a "ghetto" of deprived children. That serves no one's interest, including the poorer, deprived child.

We find that the majority of parents from deprived households do not get involved in the school, do not tend to take an active interest in their child's education - and are not there when they are needed to support the school and their children. To successfully nurture a culture of achievement a school needs some pupils and, most importantly, some parents who want to achieve. It can't just be left to the professional staff of a school to raise standards.

Martin Burrows (Chair of governors, Lancasterian primary school, London)

Your investigation has confirmed our fears about the government's proposals to give schools more independence. We are worried that, without a more robust code on admissions, the issue will become more prevalent as more schools gain control of admissions by taking trust and academy status.

As a result, parents and children from disadvantaged backgrounds will find it harder to get into the best school for their child. Without strengthened powers for local authorities to manage admissions across all schools in a community, we risk a free-for-all. In the education white paper, Ruth Kelly said she wanted local authorities to be the champion for children and parents. We can't do this with one hand tied behind our backs.

Cllr Alison King (Local Government Association)

Why has Tony Blair got such a complex about local education authorities? As chair of the governors of a successful rural comprehensive school I sometimes need advice and greatly value the expertise of dedicated team of inspectors and senior officers at the county education department. Several years ago I taught at a large Birmingham comprehensive school which fell victim to an arsonist. Overnight we lost the use of about one-third of the school. A local inspector came in with three tea urns and supplies. Later in the day other LEA staff arrived with plans for alternative accommodation. On the next day surveyors made a start on organising repairs and, where necessary, rebuilding. The task was massive but we got there in the end. I often wonder who the head and staff could have turned to in the absence of a local education department.

Brian Moss (Tamworth, Staffs)

It is all very well for the education white paper to promise free bus travel for poorer children to good schools. Will there be buses to bring them home in the evening if they wish to stay for after-school activities, or take their family to parents' evening? Children cannot play their full part in the life of a school which is miles away unless they have access to a car, and that is why there is no substitute for a good local school.

Jessica Holroyd (Milton Keynes, Bucks)

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The real problem in the 1960's and still today for those who support comprehensive education is the frightening lack of comprehensive teachers. Teachers continue to recreate the Tripartite system under the roof of a "comprehensive" school.

I invite all of you to observe your next staff meeting when issues of teaching and learning may be on the agenda.

How many of your colleagues are in favour of setting and streaming?

How many of your colleagues believe that discipline problems are the problem of the child?

How many of you colleagues create negative labels for working class and black children?

We are not helped by our philistine and pig ignorant political masters but we should also examine our own role in recreating a failed past.

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The real problem in the 1960's and still today for those who support comprehensive education is the frightening lack of comprehensive teachers. Teachers continue to recreate the Tripartite system under the roof of a "comprehensive" school.

I invite all of you to observe your next staff meeting when issues of teaching and learning may be on the agenda.

How many of your colleagues are in favour of setting and streaming?

How many of your colleagues believe that discipline problems are the problem of the child?

How many of you colleagues create negative labels for working class and black children?

We are not helped by our philistine and pig ignorant political masters but we should also examine our own role in recreating a failed past.

I agree this is a major problem. The head of my first school (1977-78) was committed to comprehensive education and insisted on mixed ability teaching in all classes.

My second school (1978-84) was a former secondary modern school that had just gone comprehensive. The problem with this situation was that about half the staff had virtually no experience of teaching academic students. Most of the rest of the staff were fairly young and fully committed to comprehensive education and taught accordingly. However, the recently appointed head of English (public school educated and recruited from a grammar school) was totally opposed to comprehensive education. He told me that he saw his main role was to run his English department that reflected the former secondary/grammar school. He of course taught the top sets. Most other departments taught in mixed ability groups.

My third school, also a former secondary modern school (1984-87), had a head who was also opposed to comprehensive education. The first three years were banded. It was only in the upper school that departments could teach in mixed ability groups.

I found that by the 1990s there were a much lower percentage of teachers committed to comprehensive education. I think the main reason for this was the changes that took place in our teacher training institutions (under pressure from the Thatcher government).

In recent years, this problem has got worse. Most young teachers appear to be unaware of the link between comprehensive education and mixed ability teaching. Their main concern seems to be to follow the ideology of the Department of Education.

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