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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 17:12 GMT
Comprehensive ideal 'not dead'
Tony Blair
Tony Blair launched a radical reform of secondary schools
The government has rejected claims that its overhaul of secondary schools will be the "death knell" of the comprehensive system.

And a Department for Education spokesman says there "is no division between Mr Blunkett and Downing Street" over the extent to which the education green paper announced on Monday could be seen as the end of the comprehensive era.

Lord Puttnam
Lord Puttnam says that debates about education too quickly become "reductive"

There had been claims that the education secretary's defence of the comprehensive principle was at variance with the prime minister's official spokesman's comments that the days of the "bog standard comprehensive" were over.

"What we said yesterday was that within a comprehensive system there can be far more diversity," said a Department for Education spokesperson.

"The emphasis in the green paper is on schools developing their own ethos but that doesn't mean a divide between the haves and the have-nots."

And the government also moved to defuse any impression that it was moving back to a grammar-style selective system, with the expansion of specialist schools.


The fact is specialist schools are not selective. They can give priority to up to 10% pupils who demonstrate an aptitude - not ability - in the relevant subject.

Department for Education spokesman

"The fact is specialist schools are not selective. They can give priority to up to 10% pupils who demonstrate an aptitude - not ability - in the relevant subject. Only 7% of specialist schools do so," said the government spokesperson.

The comments follow a rash of newspaper headlines heralding the ending of the comprehensive system and claiming that the shift towards specialist schools represented a U-turn on selection.

Also voicing his support for the government's proposals to reform secondary schools was the chairman of the General Teaching Council for England, Lord Puttnam.

Lord Puttnam said that the reforms of the comprehensive system retained the commitment to the ideal of equality, but reflected the changing needs of society and the economy.

He said that the grammar school system was no longer an option, when the modern economy required that well-educated workers should be in a majority rather than a minority.

'Curse of class'

Lord Puttnam added that he himself had "scraped through" the 11-plus - and that he had never again seen some of the classmates who had failed.

This divisiveness, he said, was part of the "curse of class" which had beset English education.

And, in the context of how the green paper had been interpreted, he also expressed his frustration at the way that it had become difficult to have an open debate about education.

"Education is the most difficult subject on which to have a rational debate in this country," he said.

"Increasing specialist schools becomes a hostage to fortune, because it allows people to say 'no selection'.

"And if you widen access to higher education you'll be accused of dumbing down. The debate becomes reductive very quickly."



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