Experiencing Comprehensive Education — A Study of Bishop McGregor School by Robert C
Burgess (`Educational Paperback, Methuen, £5.95).
THIS INTERESTING Study by a lecturer in sociology at the University of Warwick will become required reading for Catholic Bishops and for every teacher and governor at a Catholic Secondary School.
It is an account of a sixteen month period in 1973 and 1974 during which Mr. Burgess was a part-time teacher in a real, purpose-built co-educational RC Comprehensive school somewhere in England or Wales.
"Bishop McGregor School" is a pseudonym, as are the names of all other institutions, places and people mentioned in the study.
The initial challenge of the book is to try to identify the school and its headmaster, but by the time I had finished it I found myself hoping that the curtain of pseudonymity is never lifted. Not that the questions the study raises are ultimately about the wisdom of having a separate Catholic school system; Mr Burgess's research seems rather to raise the questions whether one should try to have a comprehensive organisation at all, and what benefit 14 and 15 year old pupils for whom the maximum expectation of success in public examinations is low can derive from the school system presently available.
The first part of this study concerns the internal organisation of "Bishop McGregor". It explores the headmaster's conception of the school and the ways in which this conception is modified not only by the staff and the pupils but by the very buildings themselves, the basic design of which was imposed by the local education authority and which divides the school into houses as in the traditional English public boarding school.
The physical separation of the individual houses seems to have led to a organisational division into pastoral and academic staff, a division which seems as a matter of fact to have reflected other deep divisions of attitude inside the teaching staff of the school.
My heart went out to the headmaster whose problems Mr Burgess vividly portrays; while a school chaplain appears on the scene once or twice, the task of establishing the school as a Catholic school seems to devolve entirely on the head who finds himself with a dearth of applications from Catholics to teach in "Bishop McGregor School," this results in almost half the appointments going to non-Catholics.
The stratagems to which he has to resort in order to induce teachers to undertake teaching the under-achievers of the fourth and fifth years sound only too familiar.
No one can dispute Mr Burgess's conclusion that while it is evident that so many diverse pupils and teachers had been brought together on one site, it was doubtful whether one school was in operation.