Friday, April 11, 2008

Comprehensives vs neighbourhood schools

Say what you like about Johann Hari, and I do from time to time, here's an issue he's right about and he's one of the few journalists I've read who seems to understand the nature of the problem. Comprehensive education has failed? How is it possible to make such an assessment when we don't have a comprehensive system? What we have, as Johann points out - although doesn't use this phrase - is a system of neighbourhood schools.

Please be under no illusions: advocates of bring-back-grammars (including the self-styled iconoclast 'left'), 'faith schools', city academies, private education (inexplicably called 'public schools' in England), and 'voucher systems' like to pretend they're in favour of 'excellence' and making a stand against 'dumbing down' or what ever the fuck... Perhaps they're not pretending and they are sincere but what they really favour is a system that gives plentiful escape hatches for the middle classes - or what is closer to their experience, so that their offspring don't have to mix with the great unwashed.

This despite the evidence that mixing is good. Faith schools get better results? Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes true. Where's the evidence? What there is evidence of is that 'faith schools' in England are selecting their intake. In Scotland, the picture is slightly different. Faith schools (i.e. RC schools) do slightly better than average - because they have to draw on a wider catchment and are therefore more genuinely comprehensive. But they don't top the league table - it's neighbourhood schools that do.

But why consider this when you can cleave to the myth that a return to the notion that a child's future can be, and should be, determined by a test they do when they're eleven years old is what is needed to help "bright working-class kids escape the hell of inner-city comps"? Yes, give your Daily Mail prejudices a prolier-than-thou veneer if you can. But before you do so, consider this question: can you explain to me why, exactly, a child has to be 'bright' to qualify for escape from a situation you consider to be 'hell'?

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