Comprehensive schools still carry the stigma of failure despite rapid improvements in quality, according to Sir Michael Wilshaw.
The head of Ofsted claimed that the image of non-selective education is still tarnished by the mistakes of the past, even though the ideology behind those errors is now largely discredited.
But he said that comprehensive education was still the best option for the majority of children and argued against an expansion of selection.
Speaking at the Festival of Education at Wellington College in Berkshire, Sir Michael said comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s had been characterised by a lax attitude to behaviour and an “informal” attitude to learning that scorned academic rigour and basic skills.
Although this approach had largely been discarded, it was proving harder to shift the reputation of the “bog-standard” comprehensive, he said.
“Despite the enormous strides the majority of our comprehensives have made in the past few years, the name is still associated in the minds of many with mediocrity, laxity and failure,” he added.
Reclaiming the comprehensive ideal involved tackling this legacy by ensuring the curriculum is robust and challenging the belief that social class limited achievement, he said. A school that does not push pupils to excel is not doing its job, he added.
Sir Michael also advocated headteachers confronting parents who fail to take responsibility for their child’s education, including ensuring they stick to uniform policies.
He insisted that comprehensive education ensured the best outcomes for the largest number of children and was preferable to more grammar schools.
“What does the country need more of? Schools that educate only the top 20 per cent of pupils, 90 per cent of whom get good GCSEs, or schools that educate 100 per cent of pupils, 80 per cent of whom are capable of getting good GCSEs? I think the answer is pretty obvious," he said.