Would abolishing private schools improve the education of all our children?

I attended, together with the other founder members of the Local Schools Network, a fascinating talk given by Pasi Sahlberg this Thursday, in the House of Commons. Sahlberg is, as his website tells us, “Director General of CIMO (Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) in Helsinki, Finland. He has global expertise in educational reforms, training teachers, coaching schools and advising policy-makers. He has worked as teacher, teacher-educator, policy advisor and director in Finland and served the World Bank (Washington, DC) and the European Commission (Torino, Italy) as education expert.” In other words, probably the foremost authority on the Finnish Education system, which is, as has been noted many times, the best system in the world.

The following film is a short excerpt from the talk he gave, which focuses upon how and why the Finns abolished their private schools in the 1970s. Sahlberg is speaking in a packed-out committee room in HP, which contained figures from both the left and right, including the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who left after being told that the Finns abolished their inspectorate as well (see my next post about this).

Sahlberg’s central point is that private elite schools were unfair and one of the root causes of inequality in the education system; they meant that the children of the most powerful people in the land were segregated off from all the others. The presence of private schools caused numerous destructive effects, which both the Left and Right wings in Finland recognised. Since getting rid of private schools, the attainment gap between the richest and poorest students in Finland has narrowed considerably. Why has no one in power realised this in the UK? Our education system will never promote equality until private schools are abolished. It’s a completely absurdity that these institutions have charitable status when they only have a negative effect upon society, causing social fracture and segregation.

I very strongly recommend you to read Pasi Sahlberg’s publications and his most recent book, Finnish lessons: What Can The World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?. It’s not cheap, but I’m insisting my local library orders it!

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Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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