Comprehensive Rules OK

It was nice to hear Ed Miliband talking up the ‘amazing and inspiring’ teachers he met at his north London comprehensive, and to hear him recognising the value of state education.

After all, we usually only hear our comprehensives being talked down. We hear that comps are a last resort, a sorry second-best where pupils are violent and ill-mannered, and where teachers are lazy, politicised and pointless.

The truth is that in my limited experience, comprehensives seem like largely good places, regardless of what the domineering pantomine dame Ofsted reckons. They appear broad enough to cater for different types of young people, and the wants and needs of different types of families. There are strict comps and liberal comps and there are places with a faith or demographic focus. They’re a broad church and they’re not all Grange Hill or Waterloo Road (delete by age-appropriate reference).

But somehow, it’s as if we forget this and the idea of comprehensive education is reduced down to a single, lowest common denominator rabble – an uncontrollable sea of humanity that fails everyone and everything that passes through. It’s just not true.

The range of students and the challenges implicit in the comprehensive mix means there are opportunities for collaboration and innovation, key skills for future economies. Most people will come out having met the one teacher they remember in their adult life, that teacher who either supported and inspired them, or that teacher whose negativity provided a useful F-you kicker. In many ways, it’s all you need. And if you’re looking for people who had a bad time – well, I’m sure you could find an equal percentage who hated their private education.

There is a lot of nonsense written about private schools ‘helping’ the state sector. Perhaps it should be the other way round. Private schools need the help of state teachers and students to shake them up, inject them with some creativity and individuality and to show them the breadth and depth of a world beyond their own, tiny demographic enclave.

The comprehensive range is being squeezed by Gove’s centralising, retrogressive instincts – the blazerfication of all schools – but it’s still there, just.

I just wish we were prouder of comprehensive schools and the people who work in them and attend them. After all, 93% of us have first hand experience of these schools. Why do we feel like a minority?

Education is about so much more than exam results and many of our comprehensives educate, thoroughly.

Now, Ed Miliband, let’s hope you’re as positive about comprehensive schools, pupils and teachers when you’re in power come 2015.

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