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Social class and the comprehensive school

Ford, Julienne (1968) Social class and the comprehensive school. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94353) (KAR id:94353)


It is popularly believed that comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education will remove most of the inequalities of opportunity which exist under the tripartite system. Replacement of an ’unjust* by a ’just* educational system is also felt to be one of the main steps on the route towards the 'Fairer Society'. While the desire to produce such a society must always stem from ideological commitments, there is no reason why the theoretical links between these commitments and the means which are assumed to attain them cannot be studied objectively.

In this thesis I have spelt out the assumptions which appear to lie behind the arguments for comprehensive reform and expressed them as a propositional theory. The major variable which is assumed to intervene between comprehensive reorganisation and the supposed effects of this reform is early selection. Ry abolishing early selection comprehensive education is seen as producing certain features of the 'fairer Society'. From the theory the following five hypotheses can be derived.

1. Comprehensive schools will produce a greater development of talent than tripartite schools.

2. Comprehensive schools will provide greater equality of opportunity for those with equal talent.

3. The occupational horizons of children in comprehensive schools will be widened relative to those of children in tripartite schools.

4. Comprehensive schoolchildren will show less tendency to mix only with children of their own social type than will tripartite school children.

5. Comprehensive schoolchildren will tend to have views of the class system as a flexible hierarchy, while tripartite school children will tend to see this as a rigid dichotomy.

An examination of the evidence usually given in support of the first hypothesis results in the conclusion that there is at present no proof that comprehensive schools will produce a greater development of talent than tripartite schools. A definite conclusion on this issue must await thorough research of a longitudinal nature.

The remaining four hypotheses are examined by the analysis of data obtained from responses to questionnaires administered to a sample of fourteen to fifteen year old boys and girls in a 'typical' comprehensive school and secondary modem and grammar schools in similar areas of London. The results indicate no clear support for any of the hypotheses.

There sire three possible interpretations of these results. In the first place the comprehensive school studied may not have really been ‘typical’, however this seems unlikely. Secondly it may be that education is always a dependent variable, reflecting rather thus affecting social structures. Yet one can specify educational changes which would have a dramatic effect on the social structure. The final, and more reasonable, interpretation is that the theory is at fault. Indeed it seems that the fault lies in the proposition that comprehensive education represents an abolition of early selection. For there is very little reason to believe that comprehensive reorganisation (as it is interpreted in any of the schemes which are at present operated or proposed) does lead to abolition of premature selection.

If we are ideologically committed to education reforms intended to minimise the influence of social class on educational and occupational attainment, on day-to-day social interaction, and on individuals' social constructions of reality, then comprehensive reform is not enough - we must design an educational system in which schools are freed of their function as selection agencies for occupation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94353
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2023 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2023 09:11 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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