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Types of Schools mid-20th century


Comprehensive schools: the levelling of society

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Comprehensive schools the answer to the unfair and unhelpful divisions in society causing children as young as 11 being labelled for life as not good enough for grammar schools. This page elaborates.


By the webmaster based on hearing the arguments when comprehensive schools were first envisaged and discussions with their former-pupils

The arguments for comprehensive education

In view of all the problems associated with secondary modern schools, doesn't it seem better for all children of all backgrounds and abilities to be educated in a single local school with good teachers and facilities, and for streaming to cater for different abilities?

Such schools, known as comprehensive schools, are commonplace nowadays. They are state secondary schools which do not select their intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude.

The background to comprehensive education

The idea for comprehensive schools goes back to the 1920s. However, it did not really start to take off in Britain until after the Second World War and it took time to set the schools up. Some new schools were built but there were many existing schools, both grammars and secondary moderns, that merged and had their designations changed to comprehensive.

The slow acceptance of comprehensive schools

As with most new things, comprehensive education was not universally welcomed:

Effects on parents

Parents who thought that their children were sufficiently able for a grammar school education tended to regard comprehensives as down-market. I saw a great deal of this. Presumably parents of children who would otherwise be going to secondary moderns welcomed the change, but of course they did not talk about it.

Effects on teachers

Neither was it easy for the teachers. Many of the teachers from the grammars objected to their change of employment status and having to teach less able intakes. So many of the older teachers retired early. Neither was it automatic that all the teachers in the former second moderns felt comfortable having to teach the top streams to a higher academic level than they were used to.

Effects on children

The children too had to get used to the change. In the early years of comprehensives, I did see children who might otherwise have gone to grammar schools seeming to lose some pride in their schools. However the trade-off was that children who might otherwise have gone to secondary moderns did not regard themselves as failures. In this respect comprehensives represented a form of levelling in society.

All new developments take time to settle down and comprehensive education was no exception. Presumably it is now well over its teething problems and few people would want to go back to divisive grammar schools and secondary moderns.

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