Comprehensive Schools

Comprehensives are state schools which admit a cross section of students from the community with a range of academic abilities. The majority of state secondary schools in England are comprehensive. Schools that are not comprehensive are grammar schools, and some academies that are specialist schools. Some comprehensive schools select, but not according to ability.  For example, a faith school is likely to be comprehensive, but their admissions criteria selects according to, for example, church attendance. Community, foundation, voluntary-aided and trust schools can all be comprehensive schools.

comprehensive school

  • Comprehensive schools will always have a mix of pupils, according to ability. It could be the case that, as a parent, you choose a comprehensive because you want your child to learn to mix with a range of other people.
  • Because of location,  catchment areas, and over- and under-subscription, no school is truly comprehensive, as in it takes a genuine comprehensive sample of society. It is therefore important to research who attends the school.For example:
  1. an over-subscribed school in a white middle class area is likely to have a majority of white middle class pupils.
  2. an over-subscribed school in a large council estate, where the majority of tenants are Pakistani, is likely to have a majority of working class Pakistani pupils
  3. an under-subscribed school in a white middle class area is likely to have range of pupils not from the local area, who were unable to get into their first choice school.
  4. an over-subscribed Church of England school is likely to have a range of pupils not from the local area, but from local churches, if the admissions criteria requires that they attend church.
  • Comprehensive schools group pupils in different ways. The majority of comprehensive schools set pupils according to ability in English, mathematics and science. Some comprehensive schools band pupils according to ability. The group arrangements a school adopts impacts very much on how ‘comprehensive’ an experience your child will have at the school.
  • Grammar schools select according to ability. They usually get better results than comprehensive schools in terms of attainment, although not always.  They do not always get better results in terms of progress. Grammar schools are not automatically better schools than comprehensive schools.
  • Some specialist schools select a percentage of pupils according to their ability in the specialism.

Further Information

Ofsted report

Every Ofsted report will have information about the school, informing you of the class and ethnic breakdown of the pupils. It is important to remember, however, to check the date of the Ofsted report.


The local authority will produce a booklet, listing the admissions criteria for each school in the authority.

School publications

The school prospectus will usually include information on whether the school is historically over-subscribed. If it does not, contact the school directly for this information.



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