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EDITIONS
Friday, 20 July, 2001, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
Striking a blow for comprehensives
Labour election campaign
Will Labour MPs be singing from the same hymn sheet?
By BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan

The negative portrayal of the comprehensive system is unfair and inaccurate, says a report backed by MPs, academics and education campaigners.

Responding to the government's plans to radically "modernise" the secondary school system, this coalition has challenged the impression that comprehensives have been a failure.

And the report, Comprehensive Secondary Education - Building on Success, says that over the last three decades the non-selective comprehensive model had seen a substantial raising of standards.

David Chaytor
David Chaytor is defending the principle of comprehensive education

The report, published by the Campaign for State Education, also questions the government's planned increase in specialist schools, which will be able to select up to a tenth of pupils on "aptitude".

Labour MP David Chaytor, and member of the education select committee, said that if every school was given specialist status it could be a "recipe for chaos", generating "logistical" problems for matching pupils to places.

Admissions disputes which were already on the increase could be heightened by the increase in specialist schools, he said.

But Mr Chaytor, who has previously voted against the government over changes to disability benefits, played down any suggestion that this was evidence of a backbench rebellion brewing over education reform.

Sink schools

Another MP and former teacher, Paul Holmes, says that creating a large number of specialist schools will create much more tension in the process of allocating secondary school places.

Parental choice has already established preferences for certain, often over-subscribed schools, he says.

But Mr Holmes says that if perhaps 40% of schools in an area are specialist schools - it will present a much more accentuated sense of schools to get into or to avoid.

And the Liberal Democrat MP, who is also now on the education select committee, says that those schools which are not specialists are at risk of being seen as "sink" schools.

The report, which argues that comprehensive education has achieved "levelling-up" rather than levelling-down, is the collective work of eight academics.

This includes Professor Richard Pring, head of education at Oxford University, Dr Anne West, director of the Centre for Education Research at the London School of Economics and Professor Clyde Chitty, head of education at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

"Since comprehensive education was introduced, barriers to achievement for many young people have been removed," the report concludes.

"Assertions that 'selection works' rely heavily on seeing only the winners in that sifting process. A modern economy relies on a 'learning society', which is rooted in a much more ambitious and inclusive strategy."

See also:

15 Jul 01 | UK Education
13 Jul 01 | Mike Baker
21 Jun 01 | UK Education
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