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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Should the comprehensive system be scrapped?
The education secretary says England should offer more specialist schools.

Estelle Morris has called for an end to "ready-to-wear, off-the-shelf comprehensives".

Instead she wants to see greater diversity through more specialist schools - which get extra funding to develop expertise in a particular subject.

But critics say specialist schools create a "two-tier" education system.

What do you think of the education secretary's plans? Are specialist schools a good idea?

This Talking Point was suggested by Richard Cunningham, Germany:

"Government plans to overhaul the education system will disguise the fact that they are failing to make the current model successful. The government is failing to provide the basic necessities for education & learning and that is quality teachers and smaller class sizes."

If you have any suggestions for Talking Points,

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

I would not want Estelle Morris to teach my children

Jean Howard, UK
All comprehensives would work if they didn't have to spend hours trying to find additional resources through bids for money from this or that fund. Give every school the same levels of funding to meet the needs of all the learners and at a stroke there will be marked improvements. Schools are different because every learner is different; schools are not factories and teachers are not production workers even though all politicians in the last 15 years have said this. I would not want Estelle Morris to teach my own children - she's too narrow and exclusive.
Jean Howard, UK

No, the current system should not be scrapped. What happens if the only local school in a community becomes, say, a specialist sports school and a local child has no aptitude for sporting excellence? I agree that where there are a number of similar schools in close proximity, allowing one or more to specialise might work but only where extra capacity is set aside in the other schools.
James Tandy, UK

I think the government really wants to have grammar schools

Chris, UK
I cannot see how these comments are consistent with the legislation the government introduced in the last Parliament attacking the remaining grammar schools. If the government got it wrong they should be honest, admit it and repeal this legislation. I think the government really wants to have grammar schools because they work, but it cannot bring itself to admit this because to do so would be to admit they have been wrong for the past 50 years.
Chris, UK

If there are schools which Estelle feels she would not touch with a barge pole, would she kindly let parents know which ones they are so parents can avoid them as well?
Mike Butler, UK

As my maths teacher said, schools currently exist to get you through GCSEs. GCSEs exist to prepare you for A-levels, and A-levels exist to prepare you for university. The people who are let down are the non-academic ones. Vocational education, as offered in other countries, would be far more beneficial for such people, within or outside the comprehensive model.
Jeremy, UK

After listening to Estelle Morris on The World at One, I would like her to explain how identifying somebody with a gift for a particular activity (for example sport or art) and then directing them to a specialist school that would enable them to focus on that activity is not selection. Of course it's selection - and quite right too, but these people are so bound up in their own dogma that they'd settle for sounding obtuse (as she did) rather than use the word.
Paul B, Oxfordshire, UK

How about calling the new "exam" the 11+?

Barry, UK
With parents having "choice" I assume pupils will now be able to choose which speciality school they would like to attend. How much money is to be allocated for transporting the pupils all over a rural county? What happens when a chosen school is oversubscribed? What selection criteria will be used to select best fit of pupil to specialisation? Some modification to the SATs tests? How about calling the new "exam" the 11+?
Barry, UK

I passed the 11+ but my school "went comprehensive" just before I did my O-levels so I have experience of both systems. The grammar school had an elitist pseudo public school culture with a headmaster who often seemed more concerned about us falling foul of "communist" influences than the quality of our education. Selection creates an artificial division between classes where there are already too many divisions. In the comprehensive system, children from all walks of life mix together and this aids social cohesion later on.
Charles Moore, Scotland

So Estelle talks about "freedom of choice" yet again. All I want for my daughter in September is an all-girls school with a sixth form. Having written to the chief education officer of Birmingham, Tony Blair, Estelle Morris and three other MPs, they all wash their hands of my right to parental choice.

I have provided educational reasons for my choice of school. I do have some experience of education (22 years as a teacher and an MA in education). My daughter was given NO choice of school this year. Dream on Estelle, the schools will find a way of circumventing any system put in place by the government.
Carl Wesbury, England

The comprehensive system can't be truly comprehensive, unless it includes every pupil in the country. While parents with money are allowed to opt out, the middle classes won't care about what happens to the comprehensive system.
Fred, UK

The government is misleading us into thinking that state comprehensives provide "one size fits all" education - they don't. They already provide a huge variety of educational patterns to suit their pupils. And despite being starved of funds, and with teachers scapegoated for politicians meddling, they still overwhelmingly get the results for young people of all backgrounds. I grew up on a council estate, went to a state comprehensive, got five A-levels and went on to get an honours first class degree - state comprehensives can and do work, if governments give them the chance and the resources.
Andrew Garratt, UK

Yet again the government tinker and change in an attempt to disguise failure. The comprehensive system may not be the best idea, and maybe specialist schools could help. But by throwing out the old, New Labour blame a whole system for their own inadequacies. Comprehensives may not work perfectly, but they should work a damn sight better than this.
Matt, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (ex- UK)

We cannot pretend everyone is the same

Jon Cooper, UK
I took and passed the 11+ and it was the only way I was ever going to achieve my potential. I subsequently escaped the bullying for being a 'swot' I experienced at primary school and got into Oxford. I would certainly not have escaped bullying had all my primary school contemporaries joined me at the local comprehensive. Surely the goal for any education system should be to get the best out of every single student, not just raise them up to the same level, which for bright pupils will not be much of an achievement, and a great waste of talent. We cannot pretend everyone is the same - different levels of ability require different teaching.
Jon Cooper, UK

I am opposed to selection at 11 - it is too soon to determine someone's educational future. But then, I'm biased, having failed my 11+ and being relegated to the secondary modern school (the under-funded school for the 80% who failed). Fortunately, the school system changed to comprehensive at the end of my third year. I went on to take O-levels, A-levels and a first class honours degree. I know others who gained good honours degrees despite failing their 11+.
Stephen, England

I went to a comprehensive in the 70s. There was some bullying (as at primary schools) but, unlike Jon Cooper, I learned when to run and when to stand and fight. The confidence developed in handling "the real world" has helped every bit as much as the nine O-levels that I gained there. One size doesn't fit all but neither should the quality of education be determined by the size of the parent's pocket. The comprehensive school system will work as long as the teachers there are rewarded when they do a good job. As for the blatant hypocrites in the Labour party who preach common good but put their own kids through private schools, there are simply no words to express the contempt they deserve.
Frank B, England

The biggest problem with the education system in the UK is the way it is constantly being tinkered with. No wonder the system is in chaos and teachers don't know what's going on. Leave it alone for a while for goodness sake!
Chris, UK

Those calling for the system to be scrapped are as bad as those who insisted it be implemented. The whole point is, where a school is working (and there are some excellent comprehensives) let them go on working. But allow a wider variety, so that where there are problems, the head teachers and school boards can respond to them. The enforced uniformity causes the problem. The key is local choice, not central control. But does this government have the guts to loosen the reins a little? I think not.
Kathy, UK

The selective system writes off many children whilst encouraging a misguided superiority in others

Polly, UK
I went to a comprehensive school in the 60s, where there was a firm streaming system with unrestricted movement between sets. Many children who would have been "written off" to secondary schools under the selection system moved freely from the lower sets to much higher sets and received as good an education as any grammar school could provide. At our school ALL children were encouraged to the best of their ability - none were relegated to the scrapheap. For me, the selective system writes off many children whilst encouraging a misguided superiority in others. The comprehensive system can, and did, work but it must be taken back to its original ethos with a fair education for everyone within a safe and nurturing environment.
Polly, UK

My experience of comprehensive was, in general, very positive. I come from an area where just about everyone went to the local comp, and where there was academic streaming. As a result, people were taught in a group of very similar ability.

Now that I've moved down south, it seems that everyone who can, removes their children form the state system. These parents therefore leave behind a group that will have more than its fair share of academic and social problems. To blame the system for then struggling with this group seems very unfair.

From my local comprehensive, I went on to Oxford, then to a very successful career in the city. I was not alone in this. I also had the huge advantage, because all my schoolmates lived close to me, of having a very large group of good friends. Sending your children to a selective school miles from home means that you are depriving them of this great asset.
John, UK

I will celebrate when the comprehensive system is finally dead and buried. This utopian ideal of an 'education for all' does not work - in fact it fails most of the children that are forced to go through the system. I only hope that the next generation of children, whatever their ability, will be given the education they deserve.
Moira, UK

One-size-fits-all education is never going to be perfect, but would you want the kind of people involved in running education authorities deciding which type of school your child should attend? Parents will also pressure children to pass the necessary exams to get into the more prestigious academic, as opposed to technical, schools. As an alum of a grammar school in the still two-tier Trafford education authority I have seen the effects when one child passes, and one fails the 11+.
Oliver Richardson, UK

Is the comprehensive system failing?



917 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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See also:

24 Jun 02 | Education
01 May 02 | Education
17 Jul 01 | Education
21 Jun 01 | Education
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