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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 14:42 GMT
Comprehensive ideal: Everything to everyone?

comprehensive ideal, noun (abstract, perhaps increasingly so), • ideological goal behind support for comprehensive schools

HISTORICAL USAGE: dates from 50s and 60s post-war consensus, when governments (both Labour and Tory) converted thousands of grammar, technical and secondary modern schools into comprehensives. Aim: to end selective schools and teach children of all abilities in the same institution.

Ministry of Education circular, 1947: "Combinations of two or more types of secondary schools are often referred to as bilateral, multilateral or comprehensive... A comprehensive school means one which is intended to cater for all the secondary education of all the children in a given area..."

IDEAL STRONGLY HELD: Harold Wilson's education secretary Anthony Crosland vowed to "shut down every f****** grammar school in the country". Mrs Thatcher as education secretary in early 1970s actually shut down more grammar schools than anyone else.

CONTEMPORARY USAGE: Frequent again following UK Government proposals to shake-up secondary education in England; Prime Minister Tony Blair announces support for "post-comprehensive" schools, aims for diversity of schools and education of character. Nearly half of schools will be allowed to select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude. Diversity will include:

  • church schools
  • specialist schools
  • beacon schools
  • grammar schools
  • fresh start schools
  • city academies

CHANCES OF SURVIVAL: A moot point as to whether this is end of the comprehensive ideal, or a fulfilment of it.

eg. 1. Daily Mail, 13 Feb 2001: "DEATH OF THE COMPREHENSIVE...In a stunning admission of defeat for the cause...[Tony Blair] conceded that academic excellence had too often come second to the desire for social equality in the classroom."

OR 2. David Blunkett, Education Secretary, 12 Feb 2001: "I think the comprehensive ideal was equality of opportunity, the comprehensive ideal was inclusion, the comprehensive ideal was actually ensuring that you met the needs of the particular child."

OTHER TRENDS: Supplanting of comprehensive with desire for diversity is reflected by wider changes in the language of education, see fig 1.

THE CHANGING LANGUAGE OF EDUCATION
Old
New
Comprehensive
Diverse
Headmaster/ headmistress
Accountable chief executive
A good school
A school which meets its performance targets
A bad school
A failing school, a bog standard school
Reading, Writing
Literacy
Rithmetic
Numeracy
Sponsored swim to raise funds for the school
Public/private partnership
Fig 1.


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