I was a little surprised to hear that at some date in the foreseeable future Rye’s existing system of secondary education, namely the Grammar and Modern schools are to be replaced by a comprehensive school, which, if nothing else, is going to involve a great deal of expenditure. Brigadier H. P. Gardham told the audience on 7th January that this was not a “political issue”, but an attempt to create the finest educational system for the area, adding that “we must do what is best for the children”. One is therefore entitled to ask what benefits are to be derived from such a school, which the present secondary school cannot give? In other words, is the Comprehensive School the panacea of all our educational problems ? To answer such questions, we must investigate their advantages.
Some Educationalists maintain that selection at eleven-plus is unsatisfactory on the grounds that the tests are not reliable enough and usually cite the case of the late-developer. Added to this argument is the fact that many children let themselves down by an attack of ‘nerves’. All this can be knocked on the head by the introduction of one type of secondary school. The Comprehensive School will make streaming easier and will equalise and extend educational opportunity; it will be easier to deal with backward children, specially trained teachers being appointed to give them special tuition; it will enable the clever to go forward much the same as they would have done in a grammar school as well as encouraging the less able to aim for the Mazzinian heights by their example—even if they are unattainable; it will provide for responsibility to be given to all children at the appropriate point, not just a few like the prefects, or elite of older children only. At least one educationalist has argued that the attitude to dress and make-up of certain teenagers is in fact a revolt against authoritarian school standards. Of course, there are other advantages. The services of the best teachers will be available to all not just a select few, and will allow economies in building. To be a complete success it must also be co-educational. The headmaster becomes an administrator par excellence, being no more than a primus inter pares’ working closely with his senior teachers. Perhaps the strongest case for the Comprehensive School is that class barriers and social inequality will be abolished.
Are the educationalists, who support the Comprehensive School right? Surely, what needs doing in education could be done through the existing secondary schools. The late developers could be transferred to the grammar school at any time their aptitude and abilities showed such to be desirable. If modern schools were not continually attacked by muddle-headed educationalists and politicians for being so bad, they could all be made as good as the one at Rye. Most of the other features mentioned above in favour of the Comprehensive School could be incorporated into the existing scheme without the enormous expense, which the changeover will involve.
What would seem a more rational approach would be to build such schools in new areas as and when they are required and not just throw away all the advantages—and there are many—of the present diverse and flexible system. The argument, however, presupposes that the Comprehensive Schools are better; but who says so and on what authority? Surely it is an erroneous assumption to regard this type of school, of which we have had so little experience, so superior that all existing secondary schools should be swept away in its favour. Perhaps, after all, it is a ‘political issue’. But the enormous expense involved, if the Comprehensive system is adopted, will be borne by the tax payer and rate payer in spite of its dubious and largely unproven advantages.
To obtain and keep first rate teachers and to reduce classes to a reasonable size—these are two of the most urgent educational problems that require immediate solution in face of the extended period of secondary education. Solve this problem and one may well find that the existing system, with certain adjustments, will prove the right one for Britain and for Rye. If the Comprehensive System is adopted and all other types of secondary schools are destroyed, the result may well be disastrous, for, as Dr. A. N. Whitehead warned us in his “Aims of Education” long ago: “In the condition of modern life the rule is absolute, the race that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.” No-one has heeded his warning and the result of the latest brainwave may be a meaningless mediocrity.
Name and address withheld on request.
Our Son is 7 years old, we think he has a good memory as he is only in Rye for a fortnight each summer. Enclosed is his entry for your “What-is-it” Competition.
It is the Sundial at the back of the Town Hall. It was once on the Grammar School.
Michael Clark S.E. 27
Well done Michael, sorry your card was not the one drawn out of the hat (Ed.).
From the April 1966 Issue of “Rye’s Own”
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