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Discussion On The Selective And Comprehensive Education Systems

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 1579 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The debate on selective and comprehensive education systems is unending. Considering that every society might have its own system of education, it is almost difficult to find a “homogenous” agreement on which system is fit and acceptable to all. Debate on this topic always finds convincing arguments from either side. Some people argue that selective education is a practice of “democracy”-which gives every person the freedom to choose whatever he/she values. Proponents of selective education argue that it is a good system which ensures efficiency is maintained; to be precise, “one size fit all system” system weakens the value of education. Anderson (2007) argues that selective education benefits poorer pupils more. Writing about British education system, Anderson argues that we are failing to give excellent education to cleverer boys and girls and a sound basic education to less able pupils.

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Thesis Statement: The issue

It is quite difficult to satisfactorily defend either side. This is because different people view this debate differently; human rights gurus see social segregation in it, politicians may view it either way while sociologists may claim that selection may lead to a feeling of inferiority complex in children who are viewed as less able. This paper takes the position that selective education should be discouraged, because it is an antithesis of personal choice, and it leads to social segregation and exclusiveness. The study reviews credible literature to support the thesis.

Key words: selective education, comprehensive education, system, inequality.

Definition of Terms

Selective and comprehensive education; what is it?

As it sounds, selective education involves choosing pupils to join a certain school based on a certain criterion. This usually happens at the secondary level of education, rarely doest happen at the primary level. Many schools in the world practice an open-primary school system. Pupils who are regarded as “intelligent” join certain schools while those that are regarded as academically “less able” are pooled together in a different school. The opposite of selective is the “comprehensive education” system which accepts all students irregardless of their propensity. Here, children of mixed abilities are taught together.

Every country may have a different criterion for selecting pupils who join selective schools. For instant in a system that existed in the United Kingdom and Wales at the beginning of the 1970s, pupils were selected to join two different secondary schools based on results to a test score at age 11. In other countries entrance examinations are administered. To note is that the criterion used may vary from one society to another. Examples of selective schools are like the British grammar school, the French lycee or the German Gymnasium)

Why selective education?

Wales (2009) argued that education systems are of two different types; those “devised and imposed upon the people” and “those which arise of themselves out of the needs of the education” (p.1). He also reiterates that irregardless of the system, wishes of the recipients and givers of education will try to modify it in one way or the other, with the wishes of the receiver having more weight. A government might provide education, but no body may be willing to take it, whereas when a group of persons say they need education a school develops. So is it possible to say that the receivers of education determine whether it is selective or comprehensive and why?

Gardner (1959) described the American comprehensive high school as a peculiar American phenomenon dependable in the provision of good and suitable education, both academic and vocational, for all persons and in a democratic environment that the American people cherish. He saw it as recipe for democracy; it gave all people equal opportunity to choose. Gardner didn’t was less interested in the efficiency of the system. However manpower shortages in the 1950s and the launching of the Russian sputnik in 1957 led to criticisms in the education system, it was viewed as waste of young talent and education for all became “education for none” (Passow, 1971). Focus was on the academically gifted student-whose educational prowess was akin to national survival. Despite several calls for the abolishment of the system and introduction of selection (Ricover, 1963 p. 38), the system survived especially in the early 1960s which witnessed heightened human rights concern for the poor child. However various modifications were enacted on the existing system. This led to some form of selection, whether, de jure or de facto.

Theresa May, shadow Conservative education secretary (1999) in support of selective education, stressed the need for a system, with “high standards in education” and which meets the needs of all children. She said it was a myth that supporters of grammar schools are only concerned about education for the rich. She said selection is based on ability, challenges all, and gives a chance to the minority. Eric Hammond, former general secretary of the electrician’s union and chairman, supported her arguing that giving equal value to all learners does not necessarily imply a common school and strengthening weak schools by weakening the strong ones doesn’t add value.

In their research Bonhomme and Sauder (2009), concluded that the average effect of attending a selective school is too minimal and the differences in the performance of selective and non selective schools is due to the pupil’s composition.

The counter-argument

Similar literature as the one expounded above might convince somebody that the only way to maintain efficiency in education and support innovation is by selection. I agree to disagree. The biggest challenge today in the world is inequality, whether economic, social or political. Segregation of any kind leads to inequality. In the US, concerns with school segregation and declining educational achievement for the minority group drew attention to selection procedures and its consequences to the minority groups, segregation, whether de jure or de facto, contributes to a form of socio-economic isolation.

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A 1966 U.S. Office of Education countywide study often known as the “Coleman Report” found that a lager population of American children attended schools that were largely segregated-often based on racial background. The Coleman survey found that solemn discrepancies in educational achievement between Negro and white existed and continued to widen. Supporting the study Wilson (1963,) maintains that “utilization of educational opportunities follows, to a large degree, the lines of the stratification of the society” (p. 217). Other factors held constant, Wilson observes that the socio-economic factors will affect the academic performance of the student. He also opines that the consequences are detrimental in the case of racial segregation.

Charles Pinderhughes, lamented that what students learn from one another is as significant as what they learn from teachers or the “hidden curriculum”, and which involves things as how children think and learn about themselves, how they think about and view other people and how to cope with them. Values, morals and ethics or styles of behavior are an important part of social chemistry. A students “fate control”- the feeling and conviction that, he/she can take control of his/her own life is important in academics. This feeling of powerlessness in fate control can be related to the social composition of the student body. The grouping of such a student in a lower-class student body might intensify it.

Roy Hattersley, former Labour deputy leader, against selection, argued that it has an adverse psychological effect on students who do not pass their 11-plus (in UK), he reiterated that regarding children as failures holds their emotions back. In addition Roy said that parents and pupils’ attitudes are changed by selection as grammar school pupils are habitually regarded as the elites of the society. In summing up, he cautioned that, selection often has a negative effect on primary schools who are always under incessant pressure to train pupils for the 11-plus. Roy viewed selection as an “antithesis of parental choice-in which parents don’t choose schools; schools choose pupils.”


The above credible literature amicably supports the thesis. Selective education of any form leads to social segregation, whether de jure or de facto, real or perceived. Segregation and social exclusion brought about by selection leads to unequal moral climate which ultimately affects negatively the motivation of children by not only inculcating a sense of inferiority but also by providing a different way of perceiving life values. Selective education should be discouraged because it is an antithesis of personal choice, and it leads to social segregation and exclusiveness. The criteria used in selection in any society may not be effective, it often leads to favoritism, inequality and under funding of children who are perceived as being academically inferior to others.


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