In light of contemporary critiques of New Zealand comprehensive schooling published mainly in the popular press, it is timely to re‐examine the origins of and the rationale for the widespread adoption of this model of education. The comprehensive schooling philosophy, it was recently alleged, has produced a situation in which ‘as many as one in five pupils in the system is failing’ and where ‘there is a large group at the bottom who are not succeeding’. This group was estimated to include some 153,000 students out of the total current New Zealand student population of 765,000. In this context, however, Chris Saunders and Mike Williams, principals of Onehunga High School and Aorere College in Auckland respectively, have noted that having underachieving students in secondary schools in particular is not a recent phenomenon. A large ‘tail’ of poor performing high school students has long been a cause of concern, Williams suggests.
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