Interesting new research rather kills the case for comprehensive schools - by killing off the underlying assumption made about children, society and academic success.
That underlying assumption is that the children are a tabula rasa. A blank slate which is then written upon by their education, perhaps also their socio-economic status. Danny Dorling, for example, has been most insistent that anyone could become a Professor of Social Geography, himself being a prime example of the contention, anyone has. This is not so:
However, once we controlled for factors involved in pupil selection, there were no significant genetic differences between school types, and the variance in exam scores at age 16 explained by school type dropped from 7% to <1%. These results show that genetic and exam differences between school types are primarily due to the heritable characteristics involved in pupil admission.
Intelligence - and let's side step the discussion of what that actually is - is heritable. Note that this doesn't mean that there aren't poor bright children, nor rich dullards, no one who has actually been to a school of any type would try to dismiss the existence of both. What it does mean though is that equal education for all is still not going to lead to equal outcomes. And different education for all isn't going to change, except perhaps at the margin, outcomes.
At which point the argument for comprehensive education disappears, based as it is upon that tabula rasa argument.
We could hope that this will therefore change attitudes and policy towards the school system. We'd not hold our breath over that given that the entrenched positions just aren't being driven by the science:
Educational achievement, and its relationship with socioeconomic background, is one of the enduring issues in educational research. The influential Coleman Report1 concluded that schools themselves did little to affect a student’s academic outcomes over and above what the students themselves brought to them to school—‘the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighbourhood and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school’ (p. 325). Over the intervening 50 years,
We've known this for half a century but it's not changed policy has it?
Our own view on the subject is really very simple. We are, after all, liberals. Children are a parent's most precious possession, they're actually what we do this whole struggle of life for. And, as with anything else, in the absence of significant third party damage people get to do as they wish. So, the school system should be what parents desire. Not parents desire as filtered through the tyranny of the majority, but what parents desire for their own children. Subject, perhaps, to gentle oversight to weed out the Wackford Squeers but no more than that.
That is, we support the one solution that absolutely no one at all in the debate seems interested in.