This view is supported in a Comment is Free piece today by Professor John Mullan from University College London. He writes:
Like many English departments, mine requires applicants to have an A in English A-level. Most of the undergraduates I teach have achieved three A's at A-level. They are clever and diligent; quite a few seem to have a love of literature. Yet plenty of them have never been stretched intellectually, never been encouraged to venture beyond the little paddock of the A-level syllabus.Sadly, those who have ventured beyond that paddock tend to come from private or selective schools:
there is such a thing as a good academic education, valuable in itself, and ... the candidate from a comprehensive is less likely to have had it.He also goes on to make an important point about the supporters of comprehensive education:
Those who "believe in" comprehensive schools (as if it were a religious matter) put a high value on the social mixing found in such schools. This is indeed a good thing, found little in selective schools and not at all in private ones. But it is just one of the good things that a good school should teach. Please stop making this value predominate over all others.I don't know if a belief in comprehensive education quite has the status of a religious belief, but those who hold it do often talk of being "committed to" comprehensives in a way that suggests the belief goes beyond any available evidence. He is also right to say that while mixing social classes is a good thing, it is not the only good in education.
Mullan's solution is to introduce streaming and setting into comprehensives, but is life that simple?
My experience of the comprehensive system - which was admittedly a long time ago now - was the schools were streamed to such an extent that the comprehensive ideal was already compromised.
Have things changed that much in the interim? Are streaming and setting really such novel ideas today?