Comprehensive education, social attitudes and civic engagement


  • Lindsay Paterson University of Edinburgh



Comprehensive school, selective school, civic values, Britain, longitudinal analysis.


The claims made for comprehensive secondary schooling in Britain have tended to invoke three kinds of rationale – relating to attainment, social mobility and the creation of an integrated or harmonious society. Much research attention has been given to the first of these, and in particular to whether comprehensive schooling reduces social inequalities of attainment and progression. Some attention, notably very recently (Boliver & Swift, 2011), has been given to the second, following from the work on attainment. The third has been somewhat neglected, and is the topic of this paper. Attempts are made to distinguish between general effects of education on civic-mindedness – in the sense that, for example, on the whole, better-educated people tend to be more liberal, respectful of diversity, and so on – and the effects specifically associated with having attended a non-selective school or non-selective system. As with the recent research on comprehensive education and social mobility, long-term effects are of greater relevance to the claims made for the consequences of comprehensive schooling than the effects in late adolescence or early adulthood. The data source is the British National Child Development Study.

Author Biography

Lindsay Paterson, University of Edinburgh

Professor of Education Policy