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December 12, 2014 / C H Thompson

Strengths and weaknesses of comprehensive education

Despite the fact comprehensive education is the most common form of schooling in Britain the debate continues regarding the strengths and weaknesses of this type of education.

The most common features of such a debate are as follows:


  • late developers can flourish in comprehensive schools better than in secondary moderns (schools which those who failed the 11+ went to). For those people who argue intelligence and ability continues to develop the comprehensive system is better placed to help late developers reach their full potential. Their evidence comes from high ability students doing just as well as those in grammar schools favouring working-class students
  • large comprehensives teach a wider range of subjects as well as providing a wider range of facilities than purely academic institutions like grammar schools. This allows all children to reach their potential through a number of avenues other than just academic ones
  • true mixed ability teaching means classrooms are full of children of all abilities so weaker students can learn from stronger ones
  • setting and streaming within comprehensives allows students to move between sets or streams depending on the changing abilities this makes for a more tailored education as well as allowing lower ability students to make better progress
  • they help create a common culture whereby one social group learns about the dynamics of another and so helps pull down social barriers and so removing social-class barriers


  • because classrooms contain students of all abilities, brighter pupils are held-back as the weaker learners catch-up, a problem critics says grammar schools don’t have
  • as comprehensive schools have such large intakes, it makes discipline more challenging in addition the anonymity students feel in such large schools makes it difficult for teachers to get to know pupils at an individual level
  • setting and streaming with comprehensives means comprehensive education is no different to the tripartite system where working-class students are invariably found in the bottom sets and streams




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