We are saddened to learn of the death of Baroness Shirley Williams, a longstanding patron of Comprehensive Future. She was a hugely respected political figure with a career spanning more than 50 years. She first entered Parliament as the Labour MP for Hitchin in 1964, and retired from political life in 2016, after leading the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords.
While serving as education secretary between 1976 and 1979, Shirley Williams relentlessly pursued the ideal of a fully comprehensive school system. She was driven by her vision of comprehensive education creating, ‘an inclusive, cohesive society.’
We will always remember her keen support for our cause, and understanding of the injustice of academic selection. She said, ‘Opponents of comprehensive education always close their eyes to the waste of talent inherent in selection. They invariably compare the comprehensives not, as they should, to the whole output of schools, but to the grammar schools. The four-fifths who went to the secondary moderns are not part of their calculations. For the great crime of the comprehensive school was to break down the barriers of class that underpinned a system based more on social background than on merit.‘
She demonstrated her passion for this subject with an article in 2001 where she criticised the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary talk of “bog standard comprehensives.” She said, ‘Far from being bog standard, the comprehensive school transformed education by combating privilege and inequality.‘
‘Comprehensive schools in England and Wales have been traduced, misrepresented, undermined, under-financed and creamed of some of their brightest pupils by such schemes as assisted school places in independent schools. Yet their achievement has been substantial. Hundreds of thousands of boys and girls in the past 30 years have gone on to higher education, and to professional and technical training, who would never have passed the cruel and wasteful 11-plus selection system.‘
We are grateful for Baroness Williams support as a CF patron for more than a decade, and we send condolences to her family and friends.