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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 14:48 GMT
The end of comprehensives?
Pupil writing
Ministers say they want "equality of opportunity"
The comprehensive system will be broken up by the government's proposals for secondary schools, claim teachers' unions and opposition parties.

"They are dismantling the uniform comprehensive system which their predecessors in the old Labour party created in the 1960s and 1970s," said Nigel de Gruchy, leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers.

21st century 'comprehensives'
Community schools: mainstream comprehensives
Specialist: advanced teaching, higher funding
Advanced specialist: will help with teacher training
Foundation: greater autonomy, former grant-maintained
Beacon: centres of excellence
Voluntary-aided: religious schools

"This is not just modernising the comprehensive system, it's a fundamental reform, which reintroduces selection ... David Blunkett's famous promise, before the last election, of 'no more selection, watch my lips', is turning out to be just the opposite."

Mr de Gruchy attacked the government for failing to be "up-front and honest" about its intentions to give specialist status to almost half of secondary schools.

The expansion of specialist schools, which receive a higher level of funding and are allowed to select a proportion of pupils, was "reform by stealth and reform by bribery", he said.

And the Conservatives accused the government of "confusion and cowardice" over its policy on selection.

Phil Willis
Phil Willis accused the education secretary of ending the comprehensive system

The Shadow Education Secretary, Theresa May, challenged the government to admit that selection would be introduced through the expansion in specialist schools and the academy for gifted pupils.

The Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Phil Willis, said that the green paper "signals the end of the comprehensive system. It will mean selection and division for our children with no guarantee of an increase in standards".

"Does David Blunkett want to be known by history as the secretary of state who introduced the most selective schools?"

Comprehensive ideal

But the government has argued that it is reforming the practice of comprehensive education in order to protect the principle, which it says is about ensuring that every pupil has an opportunity of a high-quality education.

"The comprehensive ideal is equality of opportunity, the comprehensive ideal is inclusion, ensuring that schools meet the needs of every child," said the Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Specialist schools would select by "aptitude" rather than "ability", said Mr Blunkett - and the reforms would particularly benefit those disadvantaged areas which had "been let down by the system, not just for 30 years, but for 60 years".

And speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Blunkett said that comprehensive meant "all abilities, but not all the same" and he argued that the reforms would bring secondary schools closer to the model intended by the original founders of the comprehensive system.

But the Prime Minister Tony Blair, in advocating the need for greater diversity in the secondary school system, spoke of the best schools moving on to a "post-comprehensive argument".

The green paper also addresses the shortage of teachers, with financial incentives to increase recruitment.


Teachers' unions were largely unimpressed by the government's proposals, with Doug McAvoy, leader of the largest, the National Union of Teachers, saying that teachers would be "sceptical".

"There seems to be a real danger of stratifying the education service. There will be different tiers of education, different levels of resource for schools, different ways of rewarding and retaining teachers," said Mr McAvoy.

The Secondary Heads Association expressed its "disappointment" at the green paper, with general secretary John Dunford saying that it "falls far short of a vision for the comprehensive school of the future".

And he warned that the extra funding and status of specialist schools ran the risk of creating "a hierarchy of schools in each area, with one or more schools that take the children the others do not want".

The chairman of the General Teaching Council for England, Lord Puttnam, said: "The green paper is full of good ideas but to become a reality in schools, the country's hard-working teachers need properly funded time and support in order to develop further their expertise.

"That's why we're delighted that the government has taken on board the General Teaching Council's proposals for better professional development opportunities, particularly for new teachers in their second and third years of teaching."

Graham Lane, Local Government Assocation
"One size fits all is not the idea of comprehensive education"
Roy Hattersley, Former deputy Labour Leader
"This is a return to selection with all the problems"



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