Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Tuesday, 3 July 2007 17:28 UK

Only 340 remaining comprehensives

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Secondary school playground
Comprehensive schools will be outnumbered by academies

By the beginning of next term, there will only be 340 old-style comprehensive schools left in England.

There were once more than 3,000 - but the number of comprehensives is falling so rapidly that they could become less common than academies and grammars.

This is revealed in the latest figures showing the expansion of specialist schools - which from September will account for 2,807 secondary schools.

There will be 21 local authorities without any comprehensives.

The figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that the old-style comprehensive - once dubbed the "bog-standard comprehensive" - is rapidly approaching extinction.

Changing landscape

The DCSF says that out of a total of 3,367 state secondary schools in England, there are now about 340 remaining non-specialist comprehensives. There are also 164 surviving grammar schools and plans for up to 400 academies.

The comprehensive number could fall further - as there is a target for 95% of schools to be specialist or academies by 2008, which would mean halving the current number of non-specialists.

The figures show the extent to which the state school system has been radically re-shaped during the Blair years.

The drive for diversity and greater choice has seen different types of schools emerging, encouraged to have their own distinctive ethos.

Specialists, now England's most typical school, are non-fee paying and can have limited selection by aptitude in their specialist subject - although many do not use this option.


These schools specialise in one or more subject areas, including technology, languages, arts, humanities, sports, business, maths, science and music.

Schools Minister, Lord Adonis, announcing an additional 108 schools receiving specialist status, says that these schools are "driving up standards".

"Over 2.6 million students are now being taught in a specialist school. We know they work and are popular," he said.

There are also plans to expand the network of academies, the flagship "independent state schools" promoted by former prime minister Tony Blair, which will also become more common than the comprehensive school.

But the Campaign for State Education has expressed concern about the break up of the comprehensive system - and is particularly opposed to the academy programme.

Writing to Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week, the campaign's secretary, Keith Lichman, says that "egalitarian hope has been all but extinguished" and warns that the state education system has "become more fragmented and confusing".

Consumer power

The creation of this more varied market in schools - appealing to parents wanting to "shop around" among a wider range of choices - is against a background of increasing mobility among pupils.

This means that families and their children are choosing to travel, as well as choosing between different types of school.

Figures from the government show that in inner London, there are local authorities in which only a minority of pupils attend secondary schools within their own borough boundaries.

In Kensington and Chelsea, 66% of secondary age pupils either go to schools in other authorities or go to private schools, in Lambeth there are 53% of pupils who go elsewhere and in Hammersmith, 48% do not use their local schools.

There is even greater pupil mobility at sixth form. In Islington, 78% of sixth formers travel outside their own borough or go private, in Hackney 68% do not use local sixth form services and 70% in Lambeth. In contrast, in Tower Hamlets, 87% remain within their own borough.

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