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17/06/2009

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 17 June 2009

Ralph Tabberer, who until last year was Director-General of schools, says that comprehensive schools are sacrificing academic standards because of an obsession with fairness. He believes that the comprehensive system is not working and an inverted snobbery in Britain has led to 30 years of near-apartheid between state and independent schools. He describes a culture that is indifferent to academic success and blames a combination of old-fashioned notions of elitism in elements of the teaching profession and the apathy of parents. But can you ever have a system of education that is egalitarian and fair, but at the same time pursues excellence?

Grammar schools undoubtedly produced many successful students, but at the price of largely cementing your position in society at the age of 11. Comprehensives were introduced as a way to tackle this class divide, but is it the job of schools and teachers to be social engineers with a missionary zeal to tackle inequality, or to provide students with the best education? Or is the problem that our comprehensives are not comprehensive enough and that middle-class parents can still afford to get their children in to the best state schools, leaving the rest to flounder? 25 years ago, O-levels and CSEs were scrapped in favour of the one-size-fits-all GCSE. Is it time to accept that, in education, one size does not fit all and that the comprehensive system has failed?

Witnesses:

Robert McCartney QC: Chairman National Grammar Schools Association

Dr Chris Howard: National President NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers) and the Head of Lewis High School in Pegan, Wales

Prof Richard Pring: Lead director of the Nuffield Review of 14-19 education and training

James Park: Director of Antidote, a research organisation focusing on emotional literacy.

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