Educational outcomes depend primarily on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. No system of organisation will guarantee good schools. But selection, by whatever means, is an inexact science and research supports the view that educating children of high ability and from advantaged backgrounds with their less gifted or fortunate peers promotes overall achievement. In other words, comprehensive schools tend to "level up".
School organisation has a greater impact on political, social and logistical issues than on quality. Parental choice and institutional selection are logically incompatible, but politically significant. Where children go to school, who they go with and how they get there are of enormous importance to parents. The same considerations also have a profound impact on social exclusion.
For a Labour government, arguments for comprehensive schooling include: the most cost-effective way of offering an entitlement curriculum to all; a degree of parental choice on a relatively level playing field for schools; equality of opportunity and equitable resourcing; promoting social inclusion; and helping to raise standards.
However, there are costs, both financial and political, of large-scale re-organisation. If organisation has only a marginal impact on quality and raising achievement is the priority, then "standards not structures" is an appropriate slogan. Structural change should therefore be incremental, but moving toward a more "comprehensive" approach. Looking at the School Framework and Standards Bill, this appears to be what the Government is attempting to do.
Alan Parker, Director of education, London Borough of Ealing, W5