Move past dogma to see success;Letter;News and opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
I ASSUME Astrid Ritchie attended a selective school: if the farrago of half-truths, non-sequiturs and omissions which make up her article "Comprehensives aren't working" (TESS, November 26) is the best that such an education can produce then I'm only grateful for comprehensive schools.

What is her evidence for her swingeing condemnation of comprehensive schools and the children who attend them? A decontextualised anecdote from 10 years ago; a misreading of an article a month ago in a Sunday newspaper run by a man with an overt contempt for comprehensive education; an unverifiable account of unpublished research; and an unsupported generalisation about teachers' use of the assisted places scheme (odd that in the past 20 years of teaching in comprehensive schools I have worked with only one colleague who sent her children to a private school).

Perhaps Mrs Ritchie should consider the published research which demonstrates the success of comprehensive schools in raising the attainment of all young people; the success of comprehensive schools in reducing the gap between the most and the least advantaged members of our society; the success of comprehensive education in ensuring that Scotland has a very high proportion of school leavers successfully entering higher education; the confidence in comprehensive education expressed by the community and parents.

Perhaps she should spend a little time in comprehensive schools in urban areas trying with an open mind to share (if I can give a few typical experiences from the last couple of weeks): the overt if quiet joy of an S2 pupil on realising that she is working at level F in writing; the confidence shown by a group of S1 pupils in speaking French to an adult visitor from Paris; the passion of an S5 student debating the means by which she might support younger pupils at risk; the dedication of two S1 boys with specific literacy difficulties in finishing a map of Europe; the pleasure with which one pupil reported that another with emotional and behavioural difficulties had participated successfully in a visit out of school; the enthusiasm of S4 pupils to be provided with challenges and not given easy options; the commitment of under-resourced colleagues to finding creative but effective means of reducing the exclusion rate.

But perhaps most of all she should reflect a little on the responsibility of her political allies for any actual weaknesses in our comprehensive education: the underfunding of Scottish education through two decades; the creation of meaningless league tables which did little but destroy pupils' confidence in themselves and their communities; the regular sly attacks by ministers of the last administration on comprehensive schools and their teachers; the passive acceptance by some of her political friends of inequality as an inevitable feature of our society.

Given Mrs Ritchie's pleasure in her granddaughter's enthusiasm for learning, can she not get past dogma and share in the enthusiasm for learning of all our children, and celebrate their success in learning in our comprehensive schools?

George MacBride, Bellshaugh Gardens, Glasgow

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