The traditional comprehensive school is in danger of provoking social division, according to one of Scotland's leading educational thinkers.
Lindsay Paterson of Moray House Institute last week questioned the effectiveness of "undifferentiated neighbourhood comprehensives", particularly in cities, and said the system needed urgent renewal if such schools were not to lead to even more social exclusion.
Professor Paterson told a conference in Stirling, which was held to discuss the relationship between education, local government and the Scottish parliament, that there should be a reinterpre tation of the "neighbourhood" comprehensive.
This view, from one of the staunchest academic defenders of comprehensive education, will be taken as a green light by education authorities to justify some controversial reforms.
Glasgow's blueprint for secondary reorganisation, for example, is based on the premise that comprehensives should regard sections of cities as catchment areas rather than their immediate communities. The city wants to encourage parents to break out of "ghetto" schools and take advantage of city-wide education, partly in comprehensives that also specialise in selected subjects.
Professor Paterson also backed the principle of specialist schools which, he said, North American evidence showed could be more effective and egalitarian than unspecialised comprehensives or most types of independent school.
Secondaries should also become larger, Professor Paterson suggested, although he acknowledged that this would not be possible in all parts of Scotland. But, he added, larger schools (on which Glasgow is basing its plans with an optimum size of 800-plus pupils) allowed a wider range of courses and more staff expertise, and would stop pupils dropping out.
Professor Paterson said comprehensive "renewal" should also involve "limited subject setting by sex". This would acknowledge that boys and girls benefited from being taught apart in some subjects - girls studying keyboard skills, for example.