Comprehensive school

A comprehensive school is a school type, principally in the United Kingdom; it is a school for secondary aged children, that does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude, 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 as state schools on an experimental basis in the 1940s and became more widespread from 1965. With the Blair educational reforms from 2003, they may be part of a local education authority or be a self governing academy or part of a multi-academy trust.

About 90% of British secondary school pupils now attend comprehensive schools (as opposed to independent schools or the small number of grammar schools). They correspond broadly to the public high school in the United States and Canada and to the Gesamtschule in Germany.


Comprehensive schools provide an entitlement curriculum to all children, without selection whether due to financial considerations or attainment. A consequence of that is a wider ranging curriculum, including practical subjects such as design and technology and vocational learning, which were less common or non-existent in grammar schools. Providing post-16 education cost-effectively becomes more challenging for smaller 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 also why many local authorities have organised secondary education into 11–16 schools, with the post-16 provision provided by sixth form colleges 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 have 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, which survives in several parts of the United Kingdom, 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.


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[1] Another early comprehensive school was Holyhead County School in Anglesey in 1949.[2][3] Coventry opened two Comprehensive School in 1954 by combining Grammar Schools and Secondary Modern Schools. These were Caludon Castle and Woodlands. Another early example was Tividale Comprehensive School in Tipton. The first, purpose-built comprehensive in the North of England was Colne Valley High School near Huddersfield in 1956.

The largest expansion of comprehensive schools 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, the Secretary of State for Education in the new Conservative government, 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 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, with virtually no secondary modern schools remaining. Many grammar schools were either closed or changed to comprehensive status. Some local authorities, including Sandwell and Dudley in the West Midlands, changed all of its state secondary schools to comprehensive schools during the 1970s.

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.

Northern Ireland

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.


When the first comprehensive schools appeared in the 1950s, the Australian Government started to transition to comprehensive schooling which has been expanding and improving ever since. Prior to the transition into comprehensive schooling systems, primary and secondary state schools regularly measured students' academic merit based on their performance in public examinations.[4] The state of Western Australia was the first to replace many multilateral school systems, proceeding with Queensland, and finally South Australia and Victoria.[5]

The Australian education system is organised through three compulsory school types. Students commence their education in Primary school, which runs for seven or eight years, starting at kindergarten through to Year 6 or 7. The next is Secondary school which runs for three or four years, from Year 7 or 8 to Year 10. Finally, Senior Secondary school which runs for two years, completing Years 11 and 12.[6] Each school tier follows a comprehensive curriculum that is categorised into sequences for each Year-level. The Year-level follows specific sequence content and achievement for each subject, which can be interrelated through cross-curricula.[7] In order for students to complete and graduate each tier-level of schooling, they need to complete the subject sequences of content and achievement. Once students have completed Year 12, they may choose to enter into Tertiary education. The two-tier Tertiary education system in Australia includes both higher education (i.e.: University, College, other Institutions) and vocational education and training (VET). Higher education works off of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)[8] and prepares Australians for an academic route that may take them into the theoretical and philosophical lenses of their career options.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Comps - here to stay?, Phil Tineline, September 2005, BBC, accessed 12 August 2008.
  3. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Barcan, Alan (2007). "Comprehensive Secondary Schools in Australia: a View from Newcastle, New South Wales" (PDF). Education Research and Perspectives, University of Newcastle, NSW. 34: 136–178.
  5. ^ Harrington, Marylin (2008). Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Bill 2008. National Curriculum: Social Policy Section. pp. 1–19. ISSN 1328-8091.
  6. ^ Technology, Elcom. "Education system overview". Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  7. ^ "F-10 curriculum". Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  8. ^ Agency, Digital Transformation. "Higher education |". Retrieved 24 October 2017.

External links

Aberdare High School

Aberdare High School (Welsh: Ysgol Uwchradd Aberdâr) was a comprehensive school in Aberdare, Wales.

The school was situated between the villages of Trecynon and Cwmdare and sited opposite the Coleg y Cymoedd site (formerly called Coleg Morgannwg).

Over 600 pupils attended the school, which had a separate sports facility, two annexes, an upper school and a lower school. The school was a member of the Cynon Valley 16+ Consortium, which combined the resources of several local schools for sixth form tuition.

The school's 'Dare Valley Sports Hall' was used by the public (after school hours) and the pupils of the school.

Prior to September 2009, the school's name was Aberdare Boys' Comprehensive School.

Bayside Comprehensive School

Bayside Comprehensive School, or simply Bayside, is a boys' comprehensive school in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. It is one of two secondary schools in Gibraltar and covers year 8 to year 13 (age 12 to 18).

Blaengwawr Comprehensive School

Blaengwawr Comprehensive School (Welsh: Ysgol Gyfun Blaengwawr) was a comprehensive school in the village of Aberaman, near Aberdare, Rhondda Cynon Taf. It was one of three local schools closed in 2014 and merged to form Aberdare Community School.

The school's catchment area included the communities of Aberaman, Cwmaman, Godreaman and Abercwmboi. It was a mixed school with over 800 girls and boys. Included in this number were approximately 160 pupils attending from outside the catchment area. The main feeder primary schools included Blaengwawr, Oaklands, Glynhafod and Capcoch.

The school also housed the Special Support Centre for pupils throughout the Cynon Valley who have physical or hearing difficulties.

Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive School

Bryn Celynnog Comprehensive is a co-educational secondary school located in Beddau, Wales for students from the ages of 11 to 18. It is located in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales.

Havant Academy

Havant Academy is a mixed secondary school located in the Leigh Park area of Havant in the English county of Hampshire. The school is situated at the edge of Staunton Country Park.

Previously known as Wakeford Comprehensive School, it gained specialist Sports College status and was renamed Staunton Community Sports College. It then became a foundation school administered by Hampshire County Council. The school converted to academy status on 1 September 2010 and was renamed Havant Academy, becoming the first academy in Hampshire. It is sponsored by the Kemnal Academies Trust.Havant Academy was rated 'good' in most aspects in its Ofsted report of June 2015. In previous Ofsted reports Havant Academy had been found unsatisfactory; in 2013 Ofsted stated that "The academy is making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures."Havant Academy offers GCSEs, BTECs and other vocational courses as programmes of study for pupils.

Heworth Grange Comprehensive School

Heworth Grange School is an Academy and a member of the Consilium Academies Trust in the Gateshead area of Tyne and Wear, England. Between 2010 and 2013 the school underwent a major rebuild as part of the 'Building Schools for the Future' scheme. It educates students aged 11–18, including a sixth form. The Headteacher is Chris Richardson.

Jarrow School

Jarrow School is a coeducational secondary school located in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, England admitting pupils aged 11 to 16.

Mount Temple Comprehensive School

Mount Temple Comprehensive School is a secondary school in Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland. The school operates under the patronage of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, and has, as a primary objective, the provision of state-funded second level education to the Protestant population of northern Dublin. The school was established in 1972 following the amalgamation of Mountjoy School, Hibernian Marine School and Bertrand & Rutland School.

Mountain Ash Comprehensive School

Mountain Ash Comprehensive School (Welsh: Ysgol Gyfun Aberpennar), known as MACS, is a comprehensive school near Cwmpennar near the town of Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. The school was formerly known as Mountain Ash Grammar School (Welsh: Ysgol Ramadeg Aberpennar) and is located near the former Dyffryn Colliery.

Newpark Comprehensive School

Newpark Comprehensive School (Irish: Scoil Chuimsitheach na Páirce Nua) is a mixed, Church of Ireland, state comprehensive secondary school in Blackrock, County Dublin, Ireland. It was established in 1972.

Nunthorpe Academy

Nunthorpe Academy (@cliddle37 on snappy)is an 11-18 Specialist Science, Business and Enterprise Academy in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, England.

St Gregory's Catholic School

St Gregory's Catholic School (often shortened to St Greg's) is an 11–18 mixed, Roman Catholic secondary school and sixth form with academy status in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. It was established in 1966 and is part of the Kent Catholic Schools' Partnership. It is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.

St John's Catholic Comprehensive School

St John's Catholic Comprehensive School is a coeducational Roman Catholic secondary school and sixth form, located in Gravesend in the English county of Kent.It is a voluntary aided school in the trusteeship of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, and is maintained by Kent County Council. Although the school has its own admissions procedure, it does coordinate with Kent County Council for admissions.

St John's Catholic Comprehensive School DOESN'T offer GCSEs, BTECs and OCR Nationals as programmes of study for pupils, while students in the sixth form have the option to study from a range of A Levels and further BTECs.

St John Fisher Catholic School

St John Fisher Catholic School (also referred to as SJF) is a Roman Catholic secondary school and sixth form located in the Diocese of Southwark in Chatham.

St John Fisher is one of two genuine comprehensive schools in Medway, an authority that retains selections. Pupils also travel in from Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent. It is also the only Catholic secondary school within the local authority and also the only secondary school with two separate sites. The years 7 and 8 are on a separate campus known as the Lower School, at 79 Maidstone Road. The main site located at Ordnance Street is for Year 9 to 13.

St John Payne Catholic Comprehensive School

Saint John Payne Catholic School is a Roman Catholic voluntary aided school located in Chelmsford, Essex. Established in 1959, the school serves the mid Essex deanery in the Diocese of Brentwood.

St Joseph's Catholic Academy

St Joseph's Catholic Academy (formerly St Joseph's RC Comprehensive School) is a coeducational Roman Catholic secondary school with academy status, located in Hebburn, Tyne and Wear, England.

The school currently caters for students aged 11 to 18 and also a number of Vocational courses for 14- to 19-year-olds. It is one of a number of secondary schools in the local authority area that has a sixth form.

The school is on the B1306, near the A185 junction, in the south of Hebburn, one mile north of the terminus of the A194(M). It is on the district boundary with Gateshead. Further down Mill Lane until 1992 was the Monkton Coke Works.

Waterloo Road (TV series)

Waterloo Road is a British television drama series set in a comprehensive school of the same name, broadcast on BBC One and later also on BBC Three. The school was set in Rochdale, England from series one until the end of series seven, and from the beginning of series eight until the end of the show in series ten, the school was set in Greenock, Scotland. In 2014, it was confirmed that the 10th series of Waterloo Road would be the last. The first episode was broadcast on BBC One on 9 March 2006 and the final episode on BBC Three on 9 March 2015. Waterloo Road ran for 10 series, 200 episodes and exactly 9 years. Reruns previously aired on CBS Drama in the UK.

West Bridgford School

The West Bridgford School is a co-educational comprehensive school in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, England.

Westside School, Gibraltar

Westside School or simply Westside is a girls' comprehensive school in the British territory of Gibraltar.

The school opened in 1982, and was built in order to make available a better education to the students of the former Girls' Comprehensive School which had been then spread over three different sites. It was originally an amalgamation of four girls' schools: Loreto High School, St. Joseph's Secondary School, St. Margaret's School, and St. David's Commercial School.

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