Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Comprehensively best

Roy Hattersley has an enthusive piece in the Education Guardian today about the benefits of genuine comprehensive education - in particular, as practiced at my own old school, Lady Manners, Bakewell.

Ofsted can be effusive. Report 268844 begins with the pronouncement that the school under review consistently "provides its students with an excellent education". It goes on to describe both students' achievements and the quality of education as "excellent in the sixth form and in the main school".
The summary of findings includes, as always, "improvements needed". It concludes that "no significant areas for improvement were identified".
Lady Manners school in Bakewell, Derbyshire, was adjudged to be as near to perfect as is possible outside the great local education authority in the sky.
Yet Lady Manners is not just one of the fashionably derided comprehensive schools. It is aggressively opposed to every form of secondary selection.
So what does Lady Manners's remarkable success prove? First, it confirms beyond doubt that comprehensive schools can meet the needs of every sort of pupil with almost unqualified success. The notion that the non-selective principle is intrinsically flawed is obviously absurd. Second, it demonstrates that schools are most likely to do the proper comprehensive job if they are proper comprehensives.
Not every LEA can create the circumstances that have contributed to Lady Manners's achievement. But the government and local authorities could create catchment areas that provide a genuine all-ability intake - the essential ingredient of all its achievements. Lady Manners thrives in the environment of success. The problem is an unwillingness to replicate it throughout the country.

Though I could make plenty of criticisms of Lady Manners from my own time there (some while ago now, of course, under a different headmaster), I do think Hattersley is right. True comprehensive schools can and do work best for the benefit of all students, and selection simply doesn't. As for 'faith-based' schools - gods save us.



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