1965 Labour movement. Intended to replace the inefficient tripartite system. In the comprehensive system, young people of all abilities and from all social backgrounds attend the same type of school (except for those in private education). It was hoped that these schools would provided equal opportunity.
1. Free (state maintained)
2. Non-selective (abolished 11+ exams)
3. Mixed abilities and social backgrounds
Arguments in Favour
1. They breakdown social barriers. This is because they take students from a range of social class backgrounds. They also take students of all abilities and many have a healthy mix of ethnic minority students. In this way studnets learn to interact with people from a wide range of social backgrounds.
2. They prevent wasted talent. This is because comprehensive schools do not select students at an early age. Comprehensive schools allow students to develop at their own pace through mixed ability teaching.
Key Sociologist = Moon (1990) discovered that mixed ability teaching improved the educational performance of low ability students without affecting the high ability students.
3. They offer more equality of educational opportunity than the tripartite system. Unlike the tripartite system all students attend the same school and therefore broadly receive the same educational experience. For example, in terms of quality of teachers, facilities etc.
Further Arguments in Favour
4. It is a more efficient way of runing schools than the tripartite system. This is because there is only one big school to run and staff, as opposed to three under the tripartite system.
1. The commitment to mixed ability teaching can have negative consequences. Some sociologists argue that brighter students are held back by the less able. It has also been suggested that lower ability students find the work too difficult to cope with.
2. Comprehensive schools tend to obtain worse exam results than grammar schools. For example, 'league tables' show that few comprehensive schools appear in the top 100 schools in the country.
3. Many comprehensive schools have not ended up with a healthy social class mix. This is because most comprehensive schools take their students from a catchment area. These are often middle class or working class areas.
4. Some people are critical of the way many comprehensive schools set or stream students and in this way create a 'mini-tripartite system' within a single school. They are also opposed to the way some comprehensive schools recieve more funding than others and the way some select a small proportion of their intake.