Ministers warned of perils of selection

15th November 2002 at 00:00
COMPREHENSIVES appear to be better than selective schools at reducing the achievement gap between social classes, according to research published next week.

Detailed analysis from an international survey shows that education systems which separate pupils at early ages show a stronger link between social class and academic achievement.

Countries which send pupils through different types of programmes within a school, or send them to different types of school, also tend to produce lower reading performances, researchers say.

Educationists warn care must be taken when changing the British comprehensive system to make sure that increased specialisation does not have the same effect.

The research was conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development through its PISA survey of student skills and knowledge in 30 countries.

An OECD spokesman said: "School systems that differentiate between pupils through institutionalised streaming at early ages tend to produce lower reading performances while failing to moderate the impact of social background on student attainment."

The Government's plans for secondary education include increasing the number of specialist schools.

International education consultant Donald Hirsch said: "What we mean by specialisation doesn't necessarily lead to institutionalised streaming, but many people fear that it could lead in that direction.

"It needs to be recognised that our comprehensive system in its present form has had some apparent advantages over systems which have separated students.

"Therefore any measures which do separate students need to be considered very carefully to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have the best possible opportunities."

A publication containing the new findings, entitled "Reading for Change", will be published by the OECD on Tuesday.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today