Comprehensives don't work

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The Independent Online
EVEN when time has proved that the comprehensive ideal did not work for the erstwhile Grocers School, we still have people like Maurice Preston insisting it could work, and should work ("Hackney Downs: why it had to fail", 30 July). Yet he attended this school when it was selective, and has he tried to teach there, or anywhere like it, recently? emeritus professors of economics tend not to.

The old tripartite system wasn't nearly as bad as some people claim, and at least teachers could "pitch" their programmes accordingly. The fact remains, as any teacher will tell you, that some children simply have no desire to learn.

Mr Preston argues that wider social changes are to blame for the school's downfall, and admits factors like unemployment can't be magically cured. But we certainly don't live in a more "socially divided society from when comprehensives were founded" - the boundaries have been blurred in the last 20 years.

It is just far too tall an order for any head, school or group of teachers to cope with and cater for the whole gamut of requirements presenting itself in an average secondary intake of 11-year-olds. All the selective system did was share the caring out more fairly, and give, in so doing, a chance for 20 per cent to study in peace and quiet.

Not everyone wants peace and quiet. Why not turn Hackney Downs into a new school for the maladjusted? It would save the rest of us having to absorb them. Maurice Preston could be head. Then see if he still believes in comprehensive education.

N Gillott

Enfield, London