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Hands Off Comprehensive Education


ESTELLE MORRIS, New Labour education secretary, has threatened that the "comprehensive ideals" prevailing since the 1960s would "wither and die" if schools did not embrace New Labour's agenda for change.

Teachers however point out that comprehensive education, despite underfunding, has narrowed the education gap between children from working-class and middle-class backgrounds.

In 1970, 47% of students left secondary school with no qualifications. By 2000 this had dropped to 5.4% and three times more 16 year olds are getting five or more A to C grades at GCSE.

Pupils do far less well where selection has continued. But selection is a key part of New Labour's "agenda for change", says Bob Sulatycki from Kensington and Chelsea NUT.

"From day one this government has undermined comprehensives and supported selection. Blair even sent a son to London Oratory, which is notorious for selecting students.

"New Labour attack the schools but they've been in power for over five years and carried on with Tory policies. And by going further down that route, they'll have an even more divided education system.

"They talk about offering extra money to schools that comply with their views. It's another step towards a two-tier system. Some schools will get more money and can select more. You might as well start calling them grammar schools and secondary moderns.

"These bribes will mean schools opt to go for "specialist" status - or see themselves pushed to the bottom of the pile. Morris said she wouldn't touch some schools with a bargepole - a very insulting comment.

"But all her policies will do is to create even more sink schools. They'll simply concentrate those with the greatest needs in the lowest tier of "sink" schooling - making it even harder to meet their needs.

"Children need individual attention in the schools. What we haven't had is truly comprehensive education where needs are properly assessed and met. Education also needs to be properly funded. There's a division in quality between areas and schools within areas. "We need much more democratic control of the curriculum - of what actually goes on in schools - without the national curriculum straitjacket. All of these are designed to meet the needs of the system not the children.

"At present demoralisation is leading to a flight out of teaching. The teachers' union needs to take action to make Blair, Morris and Co. realise that to meet individual needs you need more resources and smaller class sizes."

The Socialist 28 June 2002

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