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When is a comprehensive school actually a secondary modern?

(40 Posts)
onceamai Fri 10-Sep-10 10:45:40

Last year we looked at our local fairly new flag ship Church of England comprehensive school. Three separate sciences were not offered; a classical language was not offered; French was not offered in year 7, NVQs had been introduced to raise standards because in spite of massive investment 40% of the children had failed to achieve five GCSEs. I had previously understood comprehensive to mean catering for all levels of ability. This school clearly was not catering for high or potentially high achievers and was clearly closing down options for some children as early as 11. How therefore can it possibly call itself comprehensive? It was closer to the old secondary modern model. Also have NVQs now replaced the old CSE's to reintroduce a two tier but watered down qualification system?

gramercy Fri 10-Sep-10 11:14:22


Not all comprehensives are like that, though. Ds's school offers proper subjects only - 3 sciences, languages - and no NVQs.

jeee Fri 10-Sep-10 11:15:32

In Kent all the 'comprehensives' are effectively secondary moderns, as there are also grammar schools. This does not preclude some of them being excellent schools.

onceamai Fri 10-Sep-10 11:21:56

I went to school in Kent. Here, however, there are few options and the aforementioned school is the best of a bad bunch. There are one or two state grammars within reach but the competition is fierce, something like top 2 or 3% rather than the top 20% which was the case in Kent in the 1970s.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 11:40:20

My daughter's school is a secondary modern - we live in Gloucester where the 11+ system is still in place. So there are 4 state grammars (all 99 or 100% A-C at GCSE) and 5 comps, who take all the kids who fail to get through the 11+.

DD moved into the area in year 9, didn't take the entrance exam as the waiting lists were too huge. So she went to the comp.

DON'T whatever you do write bog standard comps off. DD is doing brilliantly there, she is taking 3 seperate sciences (yes most of the kids take 1 combined Science GCSE, but there is provision there to help kids who are more able). yes there are vocational subjects, but it is by no means complusory to take them, ime the more able kids are encouraged to stick with academic subjects.

Dd is doing brilliantly there - is predicted to get A*-B in all 12 of her GCSEs. The godd thing also is that all of her classes are really small - average about 15 kids a class.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 11:41:59

She is also dyslexic (the comp diagnosed her within 3 months, at her previous selective school she was just castigated for being a slow and messy reader and writer) and the support she recieves is second to none.

I had a conversation with dd about fantasy lottery wins, i asked that if we won teh lottery if she would like to go to Cheltenham Ladies College or something, she said no as she thinks the teachers at her school are so great.

emkana Fri 10-Sep-10 11:43:05

GetOrf, would you mind telling me (in some coded fashion) which school this is? I am in gloucester, too, and dd1 will soon have to choose a secondary school, so would be interested if your dd's is on our list.

Fennel Fri 10-Sep-10 11:47:55

All our 4 local non-faith secondaries have worse GCSE pass rates than the OP's, but they can't be seen as secondary moderns because there are no grammar schools within an hour's travel of us, or more, so though a few children do make that long trek (and many others move away from the city, and many others go private) there are still a fair few children, like mine and my close friends' children, who don't actually have other options (leftie socialist atheist types), and so they do go to the local comps, and some of those children are very bright.

so there is lots of siphoning off of children in our area but still a fair proportion of bright kids who go to the local comps, the overall figures don't show this, they show lots of children not achieving, but there are also lots of bright, high achieving children in there.

animula Fri 10-Sep-10 12:10:24

"Secondary modern" surely means that they are not providing the framework for an academic education. Ergo, if your dc are at a comprehensive, albeit in a grammar school area where you can study academic subjects it is not a "secondary modern", it's a comprehensive in a grammar school area.

Not all comprehensives are comprehensives. Even in this day and age, there really are some secondary moderns hanging about, which, as oncemai points out, do not provide the opportunity to study French, etc. That, really, should not be on, at all. And where you can't study for GCSEs in some subject, because only vocational qualifications are offered.

That's what secondary moderns routinely did, in the old grammar days, and was one of the gross inequities in the system.

I agree, oncemai, it shouldn't be called a comprehensive.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 12:28:01

Emkana - I could bore for England on the subject of schools in Gloucester.

DD used to go to a selective school in Cheltenham, however moved her away in Year 9 (we live in Gloucester anyway, and dd was having a tough time with bullying).

There are 4 grammars in Gloucester - 2 boys, 2 girls, both excellent. If your child goes to any of the Gloucester primaries, they will take the 11+ as a matter of course. If you move into the area after Year 7, you will still have to take an entrance exam. We never bothered with the entrance exam fr the 2 girls grammars - there was a waiting list that year of about 40 kids or so, so dd would never have got a place anyway. Plus dd hated the thought of single sex education, mind you if she had had a chance of getting a place I would have twisted her arm.

So, the 5 comps in Glos, 1 is all boys, 1 is all girls, 1 is mixed, 1 is mixed with a 6th form, 1 is Catholic mixed. DD didn't want to go to a single sex school, and we are not catholic, and I preferred a 6th form school, so she went to Beaufort.

There are 2 more schools on the outlying areas of Gloucester (Brockworth and Severn Vale) however these don't have 6th forms either, and are miles away from where we live.

I did think of trying to get DD into Chosen Hill or Churchdown schools, also thought about schools in Stroud, but figured that one of the reasosn dd felt isolated at her old school was because she lived so far away from all her mates.

DD's school does not have a wonderful reputation, none of the Gloucester comps to to be honest, however I can truly say I am delighted with her progress there. The teachers seem really dedicated, and the school has a lovely feel to it. DD was a nervous wreck when she went there, her confidence has come on in leaps and bounds. Cannot speak highly enough of the place.

Sorry Emkana, told you I was boring!

mattellie Fri 10-Sep-10 12:28:02

By definition non-grammar schools in a grammar school area are not comprehensives because they aren’t taking all DCs within their catchment areas regardless of ability – that’s what ‘comprehensive’ means.

They may be called secondary moderns, community schools, upper schools or just secondary schools depending on which part of the country you live in, but they are not comprehensives.

animula Fri 10-Sep-10 12:39:25

Here is a definition of secondary moderns. Sadly, I've come across one of these in a "comprehensive" school area. On the plus side, it was in the process of providing a more comprehensive education.

I think people forget how bad the old grammar school system really was. Easy to forget if you are fortunate enough to have a passable/good/excellent comprehensive in your area.

It was, of course, a lot cheaper than running a truly excellent comprehensive system. And we still don't really have that, not even in supposedly comprehensive-school areas.

MrsDoofenshmirtz Fri 10-Sep-10 12:59:13

So if 40 % failed to reach A - C does that mean 60 % did get five A - C

onceamai Fri 10-Sep-10 13:04:44

For the record Getorfmoiland, I am not writing off bog standard comps, I am questioning whether it is appropriate to call a school that does not provide three separate sciences, French from Y7, and a classical language a comprehensive school when it is clearly not catering for all abilities. It is also noteworthy that although there is one state grammar school within reach it is in the next county and not really a viable option unless one's child is a genius and it is possible to drive them there and home.

MrsDoofenshmirtz Fri 10-Sep-10 13:11:32

What is a flag ship school ?

Vallhala Fri 10-Sep-10 13:15:12

"I think people forget how bad the old grammar school system really was".

Yeah, right. hmm

I must try to remember that when I compare my own grammar to my DC's (or the vast majority of any) comprehensive.

I will also bear it in mind when I look at my old grammar school, once one of the top 5 state schools in London and one of the best in the country. Now it's appalling, with 5 GCSE A-C results recently raised from 37% to 48%.

Just as important as academic achievement were the manners, social skills and standards expected of us. These aren't just lacking in my old school's current pupils or those of my DD's comprehensive, they're not even taught.

I entered grammar school in the year before the bloody Labour government wiped them off the face of London. I was educated at a time when the effects of this lunatic legislation started to be felt. My Headmistress fought vehemently against the changes which would see her school ruined. She vowed to us that we would continue to receive a grammar school education, led by teachers who had no less than a First. She kept her word.

She knew already what I saw with my own eyes - that turning our schools into a "one size fits all" production line where children are all too often educated to the lowest common denominator and where social and moral standards are severely lacking was a death knell for the futures of our children.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 13:20:38

You're wrong imo Valhalla - a comprehensive education does NOT mean catering to teh lowest common denominator, that is just a silly phrase bandied around to make teh hand wringing middle classes worry.

I am the product of a genuine rural comp - there was only the 1 school for many miles, there was nowhere else to go. I got a clutch of good exam results and am now an engineer.

DD goes to a comp and all classes are setted (is that word?), so she is educated with similar ability children.

I was astonished when I moved to Gloucester and found out that the grammar school system is still alive and well. If I had my all 9 schools in Gloucester would be made into comprehensives, with admission determined by lottery.

animula Fri 10-Sep-10 13:25:11

Grammar schools were great, Valhalla, by and large. But the majority didn't go to grammar schools. The majority went to secondary moderns. Which were a world away from what most comprehensives (even a lot of the not-so-popular ones) are like now.

I remember friends being sent to secondary moderns, and , of course, they were bright. But the first thing they had to do at 16 was either go to college, or a LVI, and acquire academic qualifications, at 'O' level standard, in academic subjects. They were simply unavailable in a lot of secondary moderns. That wasn't fair.

Even non-grammars in 11+ areas are, usually, a very different beast from the old secondary modern.

This is why there will never be a return to the 11+. People wouldn't stand for it; we've come to expect at least some semblance of provision, and a range of provision, in the schools catering for 75% of state-school children who wouldn't pass the 11+. And I suspect providing that, along with grammar schools, is rather pricey.

Comprehensives, generally, are a vast improvement on the old secondary moderns. Are they (all) offering what grammar schools provided? Clearly not all of them, by a very long chalk.

The disgraceful thing is that some secondary moderns do still exist. That's not OK.

animula Fri 10-Sep-10 13:27:33

And, of course, this is why the dream situation is to be within striking distance of good comprehensives and grammar schools.

wink <--- little hypocritical wink, there.

onceamai Fri 10-Sep-10 13:27:59

I couldn't agree more Valhalla and am grateful for the grammar school education I received both academically and socially. One size does not fit all. But every child, regardless of background or the parents' ability to pay, should have the opportunity to receive an academic education and have as many options open to them as more privileged children with similar intellects. The grammar school model was not perfect but it at least provided opportunity for all bright children whereas the present system appears to provide very little for very few.

MrsDoofenshmirtz Fri 10-Sep-10 13:36:05

I really would like to know the answer to my questions if anybody knows. I wasn't being facetious.

I wouldn't call the school talked about here a comprehensive. My child goes to a so called sink school. However, she is doing well and can do three sciences. If she could not I would home ed rather than send her there.

animula Fri 10-Sep-10 13:49:19

"Flagship school" is vernacular. Tends to mean one that is doing well in a borough or LEA, and coded-ly suggests that resources are directed in its direction. But, as a vernacular expression, it's actual meaning is somewhat undefined, so shifts about.

Thing is, a real comprehensive system, that provides both "grammar"/academic education and a full range of vocational subjects, taught consistently well, is very expensive. Seemingly more than we, as a society, are prepared to pay.

It is, I guess, why independent schools are expensive and they don't have to provide (and pay for) the sort of services that are required if some of your intake are coming from backgrounds featuring the effects of economic deprivation. Which can be quite specific, and dealing with them can be pricey.

Think about it; if you were a school, how could you justify providing, say, Greek, if only 15 children in the whole school (not year) want to take that, and only half of those will realistically have a hope of passing? Could you justify blocking out the time, and paying for a teacher? No, you couldn't, so it gets dropped. Likewise single sciences in many, many "comprehensive" schools, and languages in general (until legislation was passed saying they had to be provided, for a bit, anyway).

I do wish we put more money into our schools.

Fennel Fri 10-Sep-10 13:50:53

Like Getorfmoiland, I received an academic education at a bog standard comp, it was in a one-horse town miles from other places so almost everyone went there, apart from a few who went to private schools. It was, and still is, perfectly possible to cater to academic children in comps, many of us came through that system with clutches of good exam results and went off to top universities. You don't need grammar schools to cater to bright children, though I would be unhappy with mixed ability classes. I thnk that's a deal-breaker for me, but most comps do stream for ability. I'd be unhappy with a school that didn't offer 3 sciences 2 languages, history and all the more "academic" options etc at GCSE, but again, a comp can offer that, our local one does. IT also offers vocational courses but that's not a problem, as long as the more academic children don't have to do them.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 13:56:20

God knows whether DD's school would be classed as genunely comprehensive, however I think it runs close.

It does cater to a (small, admittedly) group of students who are very academically able, who, for one reason or another, either flunked their 11+ or missed it. So dd benefits by having very small tailored classes for the top sets. She is in classes of about 12-15 kids for all her lessons except food tech, PE, RE and IT. She has friends who go to Gloucester High School (a very highly rated school) who are in classes of 25.

Also, at the same time, it offers diplomas, BTEC, NVQs etc in manufacturing, construction, childcare, travel and tourism, so the kids who are less academic have another option.

GetOrfMoiLand Fri 10-Sep-10 13:57:33

animula I see your point re the difference between sec moderns and comprehensives, you know a LOT more than I do about this subject evidently smile

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