February 28, 2012

Can comps work?

John Redwood asks why comprehensive schools don't work.

Is it structural? One could ask how many comps have enough able students who (crucially) want to learn. If there aren't enough to form separate sets, the right ethos can't be engendered, leaving the able and ambitious to struggle to learn against the background of continual low level disorder.

That's one argument. But if Sir Michael Wilshaw could make it work in Hackney, why can't it happen across the land?

Has he shown that excellence can be achieved within the comprehensive structure? Some comps celebrate mediocrity and tolerate bad teaching.

If comprehensive schools can be made to work, what does that tell us about the head teachers who aren't realising pupils' potential? What proportion of head teachers are failing, and what should be done about them?


A K Haart said...

Maybe it’s statistical. A dud system may generate a few successes, but they can’t be replicated because it’s still a dud system.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

If comps can only work when led by the one in ten thousand absolutely outstanding headmasters, then that is the same result as "comps cannot work".

John Page said...

I'm not setting out to defend comps here - but if Wilshaw can make one work, how many others can?

Nessimmersion said...

There is a strong correlation between the performance of the comprehensive school and the more "single school town" the area is.
See Nicholson on Lewis or many other one school towns for further details, i.e. they only work when the full social spectrum uses them. Its not just the head, the more signed up the parents the greater the chance.
As 80% of the pop lives in towns & 30% of edinburghs parents would choose penury over a comprehensive, that tells you what happens when people are able to choose.

Edward Spalton said...

Sorry that this is rather late.

Back in the early Nineties, the Conservative government introduced City Technology Colleges CTCs) in urban areas of deprivation. Their intake was comprehensive but they were outside the dead hand of the LEA (Local Education Authority). So they were opposed tooth and nail by the teachers' unions, the Labour party and the local bureaucracy - just as today's "free schools" are.

One was introduced in Derby. The head teacher had been the head of a "bog standard comprehensive" in another area where he had consistently improved standards over the years until it was over-subscribed. When he had started it was a school which parents shunned if they could.

Initially, he said, the LEA had been supportive of his improvements. As the school overtook others in the area, they started to put pressure on him to "slow down and let the others catch up".

He said that what he was doing was hard work but easily copied. He would be pleased to show any of the other local schools how he was achieving the improvement. There were no takers, just continuing pressure to "slow down".

So he took the opportunity of the headship at the CTC where he would not be subject to this sort of pressure to blight the chances of children for the sake of saving the faces of other heads and the LEA.