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The word ‘comprehensive’ comes from ‘to comprehend’, which means to understand but took on the meaning of a full, overarching understanding, as in the title of a book published in 1875: A Comprehensive Survey of the Philosophy of Plato. It is this sense of being all-inclusive that is signified in the term ‘comprehensive schools’.

After the 1944 Education Act, local education authorities (LEAs) operated a selective system of grammar schools for those children who passed the ‘11 plus’, and ‘secondary moderns’ for the rest. This system was full of inequalities and anomalies. For example, some authorities had far more grammar school places than others. More girls than boys passed the 11 plus, but there were not extra places available for them, as many authorities had ...

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