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Forty Years Of Failure

Telegraph The 40-year experiment with comprehensive education has failed.

We have some very good individual schools, including some good comprehensives, but the system as a whole simply does not achieve enough. International results put Britain so far down the league tables that it must be time to look at another way of doing things. Between 2000 and 2003, for instance, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) showed the UK slipping from fourth to 11th in science and from eighth to 18th in maths. However, there was one dazzlingly good result: when Pisa divided state schools from the private sector in 31 developed countries, our independent schools came top of the 62 groups.

So if Britain is running the best schools in the world, why are we not also running the best state schools? I think, after 46 years in and around teaching, that I know the answer. An outworn ideology prevents the country from learning from the successful model in its midst.

More than three quarters of people believe that bright children should be taught separately to push them further, according to a new study.

The overwhelming majority either want more streaming by ability in comprehensive schools or the chance to send high-fliers to selective grammar schools.

Almost as many people said that weaker children could also benefit from being segregated at school, said the report by the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a Right-wing think-tank.


You wrote mainly of the benefits for more academic pupils of bringing back selective schools, but the weaker children would actually benefit more. The secondary modern schools were far from dustbins, often teaching to a higher standard than achieved in modern comprehensives. I know someone who studied Beowulf in English classes at her secondary modern school, under a teacher whose enthusiasm for bringing out the best from his less able pupils was electrifying. He was good at enthusing such pupils because it was his chosen work and he had years of experience. He was a specialist. By working at his pupils' level with materials prepared for them, he could gradually raise their performance. They got a better education too, and the research you report is playing into the Government's hand by focussing on the benefits for the brighter students. They and their parents will always be in a minority and I am afraid - in the anti-intellectual culture of Britain - other parents will not give a damn about their needs.

I suffered from being among the first generation taught under our current Marxist system. I found strategies to cope, but the less academic students were lost. I saw the birth of the "chav" in Britain, as unhappy pupils who couldn't cope moved from being sullen, through being difficult and disruptive to being defiantly proud. We have always had stupid people, but our current curse is their pride in their stupidity - and their conviction - based on constant unjustified praise at school - that any desultory attempt at performance is good enough. The outcomes of this most stupid policy are to be seen in shoddy work everywhere, as well as in the tragedy of falling literacy rates and people living culturally-impoverished lives.

I was at at school with such people. Some were friends. I felt (and still feel) profoundly sorry for them. Comprehensive education for me meant Redbrick instead of Oxbridge. Sad, but not catastrophic. For them, it meant that all their life chances were trashed. And for what? For Socialist dogma. They were shat on by Labour and are being shat on yet.

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