A comprehensive school is a state school that does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude. This is in contrast to the selective school system, where admission is restricted on the basis of selection criteria. The term is commonly used in relation to England and Wales, where comprehensive schools were introduced from 1965. About 90% of British pupils attend comprehensive schools. Comprehensive schools correspond broadly to the German Gesamtschule and to the public high school in the United States and Canada.
Comprehensive schools are primarily about providing an entitlement curriculum to all children without selection either due to financial considerations or attainment. A consequence of that is a wider ranging curriculum that includes practical subjects such as design and technology and vocational learning that was less common or non-existent in grammar schools. Providing economic post 16 provision becomes more challenging for comprehensive schools because of the number of courses needed to cover a broader curriculum with comparatively fewer students. This is why schools have tended to get larger and many local authorities organised secondary education into 11–16 schools with the post 16 provision provided by Sixth Form and Further Education Colleges. Comprehensive schools do not select their intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude but there are demographic reasons why the attainment profiles of different schools vary considerably. In addition, government initiatives such as the City Technology Colleges and Specialist schools programmes made the comprehensive ideal less certain.
In these schools children could be selected on the basis of curriculum aptitude related to the school's specialism even though the schools do take quotas from each quartile of the attainment range to ensure they were not selective by attainment. A problem with this is whether the quotas should be taken from a normal distribution or from the specific distribution of attainment in the immediate catchment area. In the selective school system admission is dependent on selection criteria, most commonly a cognitive test or tests. Although comprehensive schools were introduced to England and Wales in 1965, there are 164 selective grammar schools that are still in operation. (though this is a small number compared to approximately 3500 state secondary schools in England). Most comprehensives are secondary schools for children between the ages of 11 to 16, but in a few areas there are comprehensive middle schools, and in some places the secondary level is divided into two, for students aged 11 to 14 and those aged 14 to 18, roughly corresponding to the US middle school (or junior high school) and high school, respectively. With the advent of key stages in the National Curriculum some local authorities reverted from the Middle School system to 11–16 and 11–18 schools so that the transition between schools corresponds to the end of one key stage and the start of another.
In principle, comprehensive schools were conceived as "neighbourhood" schools for all students in a specified catchment area. Current education reforms with Academies Programme, Free Schools and University Technical Colleges will no doubt have some impact on the comprehensive ideal but it is too early to say to what degree.
- Finland 1
- Comprehensive schools that offer college preparatory classes 2.1
- Comprehensive schools that do not offer college preparatory classes 2.2
- Grade inflation 2.3.1
- Unfairness 2.3.2
- Gibraltar 3
- Ireland 4
- Sweden 5
United Kingdom 6
- England and Wales 6.1
- Scotland 6.2
- Northern Ireland 6.3
- References 7
- External links 8
Finland has used comprehensive schools since the 1970s, in the sense that everyone is expected to complete the nine grades of peruskoulu, from the age 7 to 16. The division to lower comprehensive school (grades 1–6, ala-aste, alakoulu) and upper comprehensive school (grades 7–9, yläaste, yläkoulu) has been discontinued.
Comprehensive schools that offer college preparatory classes
Germany has a comprehensive school known as the Gesamtschule. While some German schools such as the Gymnasium and the Realschule have rather strict entrance requirements, the Gesamtschule does not have such requirements. They offer college preparatory classes for the students who are doing well, general education classes for average students, and remedial courses for those who aren't doing that well. In most cases students attending a Gesamtschule may graduate with the Hauptschulabschluss, the Realschulabschluss or the Abitur depending on how well they did in school.
The percentage of students attending a Gesamtschule varies by Bundesland. In the State of Brandenburg more than 50% of all students attended a Gesamtschule in 2007, while in the State of Bavaria less than 1% did.
Starting in 2010/2011, Hauptschulen were merged with Realschulen and Gesamtschulen to form a new type of comprehensive school in the German States of Berlin and Hamburg, called Stadtteilschule in Hamburg and Sekundarschule in Berlin (see: Education in Berlin, Education in Hamburg).
Comprehensive schools that do not offer college preparatory classes
The "Mittelschule" is a school in some States of Germany that offers regular classes and remedial classes but no college preparatory classes. In some States of Germany, the Hauptschule does not exist, and any student who has not been accepted by another school has to attend the Mittelschule. Students may be awarded the Hauptschulabschluss or the Mittlere Reife but not the Abitur.
There is some controversy about comprehensive schools. As a rule of thumb those supporting The Left Party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Alliance '90/The Greens are in favour of comprehensive schools, while those supporting the Christian Democratic Union and the Free Democratic Party are opposed to them.
Comprehensive schools have been accused of grade inflation after a study revealed that Gymnasium senior students of average mathematical ability found themselves at the very bottom of their class and had an average grade of "Five", which means "Failed". Gesamtschule senior students of average mathematical ability found themselves in the upper half of their class and had an average grade of "Three Plus". When a central Abitur examination was established in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was revealed that Gesamtschule students did worse than could be predicted by their grades or class rank. Barbara Sommer (Christian Democratic Union), Education Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, commented that: Looking at the performance gap between comprehensives and the Gymnasium [at the Abitur central examination] [...] it is difficult to understand why the Social Democratic Party of Germany wants to do away with the Gymnasium. [...] The comprehensives do not help students achieve [...] I am sick and tired of the comprehensive schools blaming their problems on the social class origins of their students. What kind of attitude is this to blame their own students? She also called the Abitur awarded by the Gymnasium the true Abitur and the Abitur awarded by the Gesamtschule "Abitur light". As a reaction, Sigrid Beer (Alliance '90/The Greens) stated that comprehensives were structurally discriminated against by the government, which favoured the Gymnasiums. She also said that many of the students awarded the Abitur by the comprehensives came from "underprivileged groups" and sneering at their performance was a "piece of impudence".
Gesamtschulen might put bright working class students at risk according to several studies. It could be shown that an achievement gap opens between working class students attending a comprehensive and their middle class peers. Also working class students attending a Gymnasium or a Realschule outperform students from similar backgrounds attending a comprehensive. However it is not students attending a comprehensive, but students attending a Hauptschule, who perform the poorest.
|type school||social class "very low"||social class "low"||social class "high"||social class "very high"|
According to a study done by Helmut Fend (who had always been a fierce proponent of comprehensive schools) revealed that comprehensive schools do not help working class students. He compared alumni of the tripartite system to alumni of comprehensive schools. While working class alumni of comprehensive schools were awarded better school diplomas at age 35, they held similar occupational positions as working class alumni of the tripartite system and were as unlikely to graduate from college.
According to Kurt A. Heller:
Social class divergences are exacerbated by comprehensive schools.— 
According to Ulrich Sprenger:
As the proponents of comprehensives invariably demand humanization of schools, it is very disappointing that socially disadvantaged students, who are most desperately in need of a process of humanization, obviously benefit the least from the structural innovations brought about by the integrated comprehensive system, the organisational and curricular changes of which were primarily aimed at promoting and providing special assistance to this very group of students.— 
Gibraltar opened its first comprehensive school in 1972. Between the ages of 12 and 16 two comprehensive schools cater for girls and boys separately. Students may also continue into the sixth form to complete their A-levels.
Comprehensive schools were introduced into Ireland in 1966 by an initiative by Patrick Hillery, Minister for Education, to give a broader range of education compared to that of the vocational school system, which was then the only system of schools completely controlled by the state. Until then, education in Ireland was largely dominated by religious persuasion, particularly the voluntary secondary school system was a particular realisation of this. The comprehensive school system is still relatively small and to an extent has been superseded by the community school concept. The Irish word for a comprehensive school is a 'scoil chuimsitheach.'
In Ireland comprehensive schools were an earlier model of state schools, introduced in the late 1960s and largely replaced by the secular community model of the 1970s. The comprehensive model generally incorporated older schools that were under Roman Catholic or Protestant ownership, and the various denominations still manage the school as patrons or trustees. The state owns the school property, which is vested in the trustees in perpetuity. The model was adopted to make state schools more acceptable to a largely conservative society of the time.
The introduction of the community school model in the 1970s controversially removed the denominational basis of the schools, but religious interests were invited to be represented on the Boards of Management. Community schools are divided into two models, the community school vested in the Minister for Education and the community college vested in the local Education and Training Board. Community colleges tended to be amalgamations of unviable local schools under the umbrella of a new community school model, but community schools have tended to be entirely new foundations.
Sweden had used mixed-ability schools for some years before they were introduced into England and Wales, and was chosen as one of the models.
England and Wales
The first comprehensives were set up after the Second World War. In 1946, for example, Walworth School was one of five 'experimental' comprehensive schools set up by the London County Council Another early comprehensive school was Holyhead County School in Anglesey in 1949. Other places that experimented with comprehensives included Coventry, Sheffield, Leicestershire, and the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The largest expansion of comprehensive schools in 1965 resulted from a policy decision taken in 1965 by Anthony Crosland, Secretary of State for Education in the 1964–1970 Labour government. The policy decision was implemented by Circular 10/65, an instruction to local education authorities to plan for conversion. Students sat the 11+ examination in their last year of primary education and were sent to one of a secondary modern, secondary technical or grammar school depending on their perceived ability. Secondary technical schools were never widely implemented and for 20 years there was a virtual bipartite system which saw fierce competition for the available grammar school places, which varied between 15% and 25% of total secondary places, depending on location.
In 1970 Margaret Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education of the new Conservative government. She ended the compulsion on local authorities to convert, however, many local authorities were so far down the path that it would have been prohibitively expensive to attempt to reverse the process, and more comprehensive schools were established under Mrs Thatcher than any other education secretary.
By 1975 the majority of local authorities in England and Wales had abandoned the 11-plus examination and moved to a comprehensive system. Over that 10-year period many secondary modern schools and grammar schools were amalgamated to form large neighbourhood comprehensives, whilst a number of new schools were built to accommodate a growing school population. By the mid-1970s the system had been almost fully implemented.
In 1976 the future Labour prime minister James Callaghan launched what became known as the 'great debate' on the education system. He went on to list the areas he felt needed closest scrutiny: the case for a core curriculum, the validity and use of informal teaching methods, the role of school inspection and the future of the examination system. Comprehensive school remains the most common type of state secondary school in England, and the only type in Wales. They account for around 90% of pupils, or 64% if one does not count schools with low-level selection. This figure varies by region.
Since the 1988 Education Reform Act, parents have a right to choose which school their child should go to or whether to not send them to school at all and to home educate them instead. The concept of "school choice" introduces the idea of competition between state schools, a fundamental change to the original "neighbourhood comprehensive" model, and is partly intended as a means by which schools that are perceived to be inferior are forced either to improve or, if hardly anyone wants to go there, to close down. Government policy is currently promoting 'specialisation' whereby parents choose a secondary school appropriate for their child's interests and skills. Most initiatives focus on parental choice and information, implementing a pseudo-market incentive to encourage better schools. This logic has underpinned the controversial league tables of school performance.
Scotland has a very different educational system from England and Wales, though also based on comprehensive education. It has different ages of transfer, different examinations and a different philosophy of choice and provision. All publicly funded primary and secondary schools are comprehensive. The Scottish Government has rejected plans for specialist schools as of 2005.
Education in Northern Ireland differs slightly from systems used elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but it is more similar to that used in England and Wales than it is to Scotland.
- Prof Dr. Valentin Merkelbach: "Gesamtschulen und Grundschulen sind das Beste in unserem Schulsystem" http://bildungsklick.de/a/55873/gesamtschulen-und-grundschulen-sind-das-beste-in-unserem-schulsystem/
- who scored 100 on a math test, provided by the scientists
- Manfred Tücke: "Psychologie in der Schule, Psychologie für die Schule: Eine themenzentrierte Einführung in die Psychologie für (zukünftige) Lehrer". 4 Auflage 2005. Münster: LIT Verlag; p. 127; the study was done in North Rhine-Westphalia, students were attending a Leistungskurs
- Presseinformationen: Sprechzettel von Ministerin Barbara Sommer zur Pressekonferenz am 19.08.2008 "Schuljahresbeginn und Auswertung des Zentralabiturs 2008". Ministerium für Schule und Weiterbildung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen
- Stephan Lüke: "Gutes Abitur, schlechte Gesamtschule". WDR Wissen
- Ehmke et al., 2004, In: PISA-Konsortium Deutschland (Hrsg.): PISA 2003 – Der Bildungsstand der Jugendlichen in Deutschland – Ergebnisse des 2. internationalen Vergleiches, Münster/NewYork: Waxmann, S. 244
- Jochen Leffers: "Gesamtschule folgenlos - Bildung wird vererbt". 3 January 2008. Der Spiegel.
- Kurt A. Heller: "Umgang mit Heterogenität im Gesamtschul- versus dreigliedrigen Sekundarschulsystem". From the magazine: "Realschule in Deutschland", 116, Nr. 6 (2008) 
- Ulrich Sprenger: "Die Realschule im Spiegel der Bildungsforschung: Sieben Thesen und acht Fragen zu ihrer Zukunft - Ein Beitrag zur Schulformdebatte" 
- Peter Medway and Pat Kingwell, ‘A Curriculum in its place: English teaching in one school 1946-1963′, History of Education 39, no. 6 (November 2010): 749-765.
- Comps - here to stay?, Phil Tineline, September 2005, BBC, accessed 12 August 2008.
- Comprehensive Future – the campaign for fair admissions
- Centre for the Support of Comprehensive Schools
- Comprehensive Education – Examining the Evidence Report of 1999 seminar organised by CASE (the Campaign for State Education in the UK).
- Campaign for State Education
- Secretary of State for Education Ruth Kelly on comprehensive education
- Comp, a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the creation of comprehensive schools
- Discussions in 2002 about the future of comprehensives