Podium: `Comprehensive' must mean just that

Roy Hattersley From a speech by Labour's former deputy leader, launching a campaign against selection in schools

TODAY WE commit ourselves to campaign in the 36 local education authority areas where selection remains. First to secure a ballot on the schools' future, then to win the ballot for comprehensive education.

There is also a second campaign that we must fight. That is the battle against creeping selection. It may well be that there is much to be gained from comprehensive schools that develop a speciality - music, art, drama, mathematics. But there is nothing to be said in favour of allowing those schools to select a proportion of their pupils.

The inevitable result is a hierarchy of esteem. And we know, as a certainty, that once schools are listed in some sort of pecking order - no matter how arbitrary, ignorant or malicious it may be - the morale, the intake and the performance of those at the bottom of the imaginary league table inevitably declines.

Yet the Government somehow thinks it right to allow, indeed to encourage, what it calls selection by aptitude. With a fine disregard for its intellectual reputation, it even chooses to pretend that selection by aptitude is different from selection by ability. Yet we know that both processes produce the same result.

The little boys with violins and the little girls who have music lessons and take their places in selective specialist schools are the children who are coached to win grammar school places through the 11-plus. Jean Floud told us years ago that "There's always a social element in selection." It will prejudice the entry into the specialist schools, as it did and does into the grammar schools.

However, I don't want my part of the rally to turn into an attack on Government policies. The best prospect for complete comprehensive education in this country still lies with the Labour Government. Our task is to turn the prospect into reality.

Our greatest weapon is the strength of our case. We know that comprehensive schools work. For gifted pupils; for average pupils; for pupils with special needs. The improvement in the overall level of education in this country - demonstrated by every objective measurement - is the triumph of the comprehensive system that educates 90 percent of our children. And almost all the failures - the problems that are trumpeted in our newspapers - occur in schools that are only comprehensive in name. They are old secondary modern schools in which the only change has been the name. They are schools that are denied the stimulus of talented pupils and the esteem that they bring because 10 per cent of the school population has been siphoned off into grammar schools. And then the grammar schools have the gall to say: "Look how much better our examination results are."

I believe that many of the existing grammar schools' pupils achieve far less than they should. And I am absolutely certain that they damage the prospects of the schools that surround them. It is nonsense to ask, "Why bother about 166 selective schools, when most of our schools select no longer?"

Every grammar school prejudices the prospects of certainly six and perhaps a dozen of the schools around it. Unfortunately, the Government that claims to support the comprehensive ideal seems not to understand that selective and comprehensive schools cannot exist side by side. They are mutually exclusive.

Talk about a semi- or partially comprehensive system is no more rational than the description of someone as partially or semi-pregnant. Comprehensive education is a state, not a condition. You either have it or you do not. Thirty-six local education authorities do not, with immense penalties for the majority of children in their area.

In Birmingham, the city I once represented, education was depressed by two factors - lack of resources, and the King Edward's Foundation of selective schools. The council could remedy the first detriment but it could not remove the second. Our immediate task is to campaign in those areas where the grammar schools remain.

So today we send a message to all parents who support the comprehensive ideal.

The intellectual argument is on your side. You are not alone. The numbers, as well as the merits of the argument, are on our side. Over the next year we have to mobilise the thoughtful majority against the minority who believe - often wrongly - that they can steal a march on their neighbours.

The Education Minister, Stephen Byers, told us that the grammar schools would go when there was a groundswell of opinion against them.

Today we meet to begin the campaign that will bring that groundswell about.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own