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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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Comments, replies and queries

  1. As Melissa states in her question – there was only one quick reference to the issue of private schools.

    The main themes as I remember them were:

    – Children playing more and starting school later.
    – Substantial SEN and early proactive intervention from age 7 when children start school.
    – Teacher responsibility and collaboration.
    – Individualised curriculums which fit around the development of the child (rather than the child fitting around the curriculum).
    – All decisions about education in Finland being taken by people with substantial experience in education and at least masters levels qualifications in education.
    – Child centred teaching (if they can’t do what you are telling them to do change waht you are doing).

    Any chance we could have the whole video Francis – please?
    That would be really useful.

  2. There were five messages from Finland to other countries wanting to improve their schools systems. These were:

    1 Increase co-operation, decrease competition.
    2 Increase personalised education, decrease standardisation. Recognise that pupils are different and tailor teaching appropriately.
    3 Trust professionals, decrease external accountability measures. Don’t use standardised tests judged against the average but increase formative assessment.
    4 Regard technology as a tool not as an end in itself. Pupils need time away from technology to connect with humans not machines.
    5 Increase professionalism and reduce bureaucracy. Only professionally-trained teachers should be allowed to work in schools.

    The critical emphasis was on increasing equity. The Finnish Government allocates resources to increase equity – this means that money is targeted where it is most needed. 30% of Finnish children are assessed as needing some kind of special education at some time during their school lives. There is no stigma attached to special education because so many pupils receive it and in 22% of cases it is not permanent.

    • I see where you are Janet – I’ve got my notes here now. I’m going to copy and adjust your summary – please let me know what you think. Within what you’ve said I’ve adjusted point 4 because in my notes he emphasised the importance of pedagogy there too and I’ve added the masters level bit to point 5.

      1 Increase co-operation/collaboration, decrease competition.
      2 Increase personalised education, decrease standardisation. Recognise that pupils are different and tailor teaching appropriately.
      3 Trust professionals, decrease external accountability measures. Don’t use standardised tests judged against the average but increase formative assessment.
      4 Focus on pedagogy. Regard technology as a tool not as an end in itself. Pupils need time away from technology to connect with humans not machines.
      5 Increase professionalism and reduce bureaucracy. Only professionally-trained teachers should be allowed to work in schools and all should acquire masters status.

      The critical emphasis was on increasing equity. The Finnish Government allocates resources to increase equity – this means that money is targeted where it is most needed. 30% of Finnish children are assessed as needing some kind of special education at some time during their school lives. There is no stigma attached to special education because so many pupils receive it and in 22% of cases it is not permanent.

      When asked what he would choose if he could advise one thing to English education Pasi said that we should be letting our children play more. School starts at 7 in Finland with children having the option to go half time from the age of 6. Even when they are full time they spend about an hour less in class each day and have much longer play times instead. The teachers spend the time in collaboration, student assessment, school imrovent, welfare issues and planning. Gladwell’s law of 10,000 hours has its most important application to children and play. Little homework is set – especially for young children.

      Setting by ability is illegal in Finland.

      He showed the picture of the different animals in the classroom where the test (to be sat at 10am) was to climb the tree to illustrate points 2 and 3 above.

      He contrasted Finnish culture in education with the culture in many other countries (which he called the GERM culture – can anyone remember where GERM came from?)
      GERM culture Finnish Culture
      Competition Collaboration
      Standardisation Personalisation
      School Choice Equity
      Test-based accountability Trust-based professionalism

      He paid tribute to the people in UK maths education who inspired him when he was doing his PhD research at Kings 20 years ago.
      (On a personal note I know those people and they inspire me still – for insight into the culture Pasi would have been experiencing then I would recommend this book:

      Pasi got himself appointed as the chief inspector and his only action in that role was to abolish the inspectorate. Areas now appoint their own inspectors/advisers.

      The most substantial aspects of the reforms have been achieved at times of crisis and/or economic collapse. They have been opportunistic, so for example measures of accountability have been shut down at the same time school budgets have been cut.

      Here is Pasi Sahlberg’s website:

      Any corrections/suggestions for additions anyone?

  3. Diane Ravitch, New York Review of Books, reviewed Sahlberg’s book and wrote: ‘Sahlberg recognizes that Finland stands outside what he refers to as the “Global Education Reform Movement,” to which he appends the apt acronym “GERM.” GERM, he notes, is a virus that has infected not only the United States, but the United Kingdom, Australia, and many other nations. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law and President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program are examples of the global education reform movement. Both promote standardized testing as the most reliable measure of success for students, teachers, and schools; privatization in the form of schools being transferred to private management; standardization of curriculum; and test-based accountability such as merit pay for high scores, closing schools with low scores, and firing educators for low scores.’

  4. Tim Bidie says:

    No it wouldn’t.

    As Sahlberg himself says in the recording you reference: ‘this question of private schools is kind of irrelevant’

  5. Tim Bidie –

    Rather desperately, you deliberately misrepresent what Pasi Sahlberg said, presumably in a feeble attempt to claim that Sahlberg and the Finnish government did not see private schools as a barrier to improving education for all when their entire education policy was based on equal access, so removing the barrier of private schools was central to their aims.

    What he actually said was that Finnish law made it “illegal to charge tuitition fees for any education that leads to qualifications including higher education and that is why this question of private schools is kind of irrelevant”.

    There is nothing equivocal about what Salhberg says. Finland abolished private schools because, as he says in this same extract, they could not

    “…..achieve this dream of having equal educational opportunity for everybody if we continued to have these private schools.”

    The Finns had a real political will to create a more equal society and equal access for all children to attend good schools and abolishing private schools achieved this. Contrast this with Gove moaning about how private school children do better than state school ones. There is no political will here – just a subtle way to pander to people’s fears that state education – or at least that part of it which is not selective, segregated, private or subjugated to his ideology – is not good.

    Tim – I suggest you listen to the audio extract again. You might like to read his book and blogs too but try and approach it all without your prejudices distorting what he actually says.

    • Tim Bidie says:

      Why not lose the unpleasant tone in your comments? That would make them a great deal more effective than they are at present.

      His point is that 75 schools still exist in Finland that are known, in Finnish, as private schools. They have kept their identity.

      It is illegal for them to charge for tuition, so they are paid for by the state, but they are the same schools that have existed since the nineteenth century.

      That is the context of his comment ‘that is why this question of private schools is kind of irrelevant’.

      Note the difference in Sahlberg’s laguage:

      ’emergency forty years ago’

      ‘build consensus when faced with necessity’

      Local Schools Network:

      ‘state schools are great schools’

      ‘closing down private schools’

      ‘take away charitable status from private schools’

      Not much attempt to build consensus in these posts.

      • Tim – the consensus that happened in Finland was brought about after years of discussions.

        And what is controversial in saying that “state schools are great schools” (although I would qualify this by putting “most” in front).

        Consensus is arrived at via discussion – that is what this site encourages. That’s why it’s essential to supply properly-referenced evidence from reliable and trusted sources so people can judge for themselves the validity of what is being said.

        The Government’s view of discussion is to dismiss opposing views as those belonging to “Trots” and derided as “bigoted”, “backward”, “bankrupt” (I’ll stop – these words are beginning to sound like a Gilbert and Sullivan song).

        For full details of how Finland developed its education system, go to:

        • Tim Bidie says:

          There is no point, as Sahlberg points out, in looking at Finland’s education reforms unless countries first sign up to Finland’s social reforms.

          ‘What Finland can show to others is how equity and equal opportunity in education look like. However, school reformers in the United States need to be careful when considering equity-based reform ideas to be imported from Finland. Many elements of Finnish successful school system are interwoven in the surrounding welfare state. Simply a transfer of these solutions would add another chapter to already exhausting volume of failed education reforms.’

          We therefore need to look for different models of reform in the United Kingdom.

          Some state schools are great schools, some private schools are great schools. My point is, as usual, the lack of balance on this forum – an obvious anti private, pro statist agenda, entirely out of touch with the country at large.

          That is why I waste my time contributing, in an admittedly feeble attempt to provide a balancing point of view.

          • “We therefore need to look for different models of reform in the United Kingdom.”

            The most important things being that they should start from a proper understanding of where we are and move onwards to somewhere better.

            Any thoughts on my suggested reforms to assessment for students aged up to 14 Tim?

          • Tim Bidie –

            Other recent posts on LSN have emphasised the importance of social cohesion as being an important factor in contributing to Finland’s educational success. So you are right in pointing out without great social reform, the model would not work anyway. This is the reason why education “reform” has not worked in USA or UK, despite or, rather, because of, high stakes testing, punitive measures, “choice” and selection. We have tried to “look for different models of reform” but when our society remains divided and, under the current coalition, increasingly more divided with record levels of poverty, then the Finnish state and education system provides potent answers. The difference is Finland had the will to do it. Gove and his chums don’t and never will.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            As Sahlberg made clear in his talk, Finland had a crisis, an emergency, forty years ago.

            They built consensus and, after 30 years, started to reap the educational rewards.

            Recommending the immediate closure of an internationally renowned private school system utilised by 7% of the population, many of whom make great financial sacrifices so to do, seems an unlikely way to build consensus.

          • TIm Bidie –

            And our current government has led Britain into an emergency, a crisis. With a double dip recession, record levels of child poverty and unemployment and a chaotic school system, they take no notice of “consensus”. Gove himself has deliberately and stubbornly taken no notice of teachers, communities, parents or even the law and has imposed his authoritarian ideology on our schools. This is precisely why this government lacks the will to effect social change – because despite saying we are in all it togther, the Big Society and Gove himself bemoaning the unfair advantages of private school education boys, this Tory-led government exists to maintain the master/servant divide.

            I have sympathy for parents who make sacrifices to send their children to private schools but I have much greater sympathy for those parents who make sacrifices to put a basic meal on the table for their children, to clothe them and to keep them warm. They’ve got much more to worry about than whether they can save £20,000 to send their offspring to private school. I doubt whether the poor give a damn about rich people’s struggles to pay the school fees and it means nothing to them that, allegedly, these schools are the envy of the world. What IS the envy of the world is Finland’s uniformly excellent schools for everyone. It puts our private schools to shame.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            Rebecca – I regret I am simply not qualified to comment on your suggested reforms to assessment for students aged up to 14. I am just a hacked off parent whose eldest daughter had a dreadful experience at a highly rated local state school. I’m sure you are doing a great job. Keep up the good work.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            My dear fellow – The current economic crisis has its roots in the pro cyclical profligate public sector expenditure of the Blair/Brown years, making it virtually impossible to engage in the counter cyclical infrastructure expenditure presently required, as Brown well knew it would.

            The myth that public spending can bring about social change has been tested to destruction 1997-2010. Social equity declined during the Blair/Brown years leaving us where we are today:

            ‘Gordon Brown believed in the positive social impact an increase of economic growth would automatically generate. Yet, after 13 years, economic practice showed that social inequalities increased instead of decreasing, as we will see further on, despite an unprecedented period of economic growth’


            Massive expenditure on state education was likewise ineffective during the Blair/Brown years, again leaving us where we are today:

            ‘Despite sharply rising school spending per pupil during the last ten years, improvements in schooling outcomes have been limited in the United Kingdom. Average PISA scores, measuring cognitive skills of 15–year olds, have been stagnant and trail strong performers such as Finland, Korea and the Netherlands……..
            Evidence suggests that improvement in exam grades is out of line with independent indicators of performance, suggesting grade inflation could be a significant factor.’

            (OECD reference given on a previous post)

            Gove will circumvent the educational establishment at every turn, because he knows that they will obstruct his reforms if given the chance. Their nostrums were, again, tested to destruction 1997-2010. The educational establishment in this country has no credibility left.

            Parents who send their children to private schools do not look for sympathy. Their financial wounds are self inflicted and they bear them willingly, further contributing to the state education sector through their taxes.

            What they wish to see is the same opportunities that their children have made available to everyone.

            Do you really think anyone would pay £30,000 per year per child, after tax, if they believed that the state system was fit for purpose?

            Gove’s mission is to make it fit for purpose, offering excellence to all, quickly.

            We do not have Finnish levels of social equity. It took them at least 30 years, and more likely over 100 years to get to those levels. Thus their educational system cannot work for us in any useful timeframe.

            Who knows whether the reforms embarked upon by Blair and expedited by the coalition will be a success. I certainly don’t.

            That’s why we have elections.

          • Bidie –

            The current economic crisis has its roots in the irresponsible and selfish behaviour of the banking industry, bailed out by the tax payer, who are now suffering while the fat cats, many of whom donate to the Tory party, continue to profit.

            It is true that successive governments, including Labour, failed to the tackle the problem of state education. I have said this on Local Schools Network many times so I fail to understand your need now to flag up Labour’s record as if this justified Gove’s appalling “reforms”. The difference between Labour and the Tories now is that the former made efforts to improve the system for all children and especially those in the most deprived areas by setting up Academies, a model that was taken up and bastardized by Gove so that anything is now an Academy. Gove is ensuring that the most able will get greater access to good schools whilst allowing private companies to virtually have a stranglehold over schools.

            You say that Gove’s mission is to make the state system fit for purpose, offering excellence to all, quickly. Two years on his policies have not been successful – many schools are in need of urgent repair but Gove has spent the money instead on forcing or persuading schools to become Acadmies, using cash incentives. Two years and analysis conducted here on Local Schools Network shows that Acadmies are not outperforming maintained schools. A number of Free Schools, costing hundreds of millions, dominate the headlines but they will teach a tiny minority of children, many are set up in affluent areas and divert funding from other, needier schools. His “quick fix” ideas are not better than the policies introduced by previous governments. What we need is a long term “fix” and a long term is what Finland went for. If Gove had real vision and a real sense of social justice, rather than the journalists skill of spinning headlines, he could have gone down in history as the Education Secretary which brushed away decades of a chaotic and unequal state education system. It seems he would rather risk failure than betray his party’s determination to look after their own priveleged class than the interests of the country as a whole. In this way, he is no different from the increasingly shady looking characters he shares the cabinet table with.

            Parents who send their children to private school may be inflicting their own wounds, but those families tipped over into povery by this government’s policies have been stabbed repeatedly by the very people who went to private schools.

            As well as reading Sahlberg’s book, I suggest, like me, you learn about the history of the state school system by reading Melissa Benn’s excellent book “School Wars”

          • Tim Bidie says:

            The roots of today’s economic crisis lie in the collapse of the sub prime mortgage market in the U.S., now exacerbated in Europe by the Eurozone crisis.

            The sub prime bubble was created by wrong headed attempts at social engineering, initiated by Jimmy Carter and pursued, in spades, by Bill Clinton, then George W Bush.

            Yes, the Banks overexposed themselves, were greedy, knowing that the Bank of England/taxpayer would not let them fail.

            The indictment of Blair/Brown is quite simply that, through a pro cyclical public sector spending splurge, they destroyed any opportunity for the succeeding administration to engage in counter cyclical intervention.

            As Liam Byrne, erstwhile treasury chief secretary, famously wrote: ‘The money’s all gone.’

          • Bidie

            Glad you have agree and have admitted that it was the greed of the bankers then. You tried to blame Blair/Brown, like the Tories did but quite frankly, two years into office and no improvemement but a worsening situation and the electorate are no longer giving this government the benefit of the doubt. Which is why both Conservatives and Lib Dems were trounced in the local elections.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            If anyone has ever come across a selfless, generous, wholly public spirited banker, please let me know.

            I thought I had one, once. He was called Mr. N. Money.

            Then I found out his christian name.

            We have elections so that governments can be trounced. That is why the EU is so unpopular here. We want to give the hierarchy a damn good trouncing, but we can’t.

            The voter knows that we need what used to be called ‘pump priming’, projects like the controversial ‘Boris island’.

            But Brown, no doubt deliberately, passed on an economically poisoned chalice, amusingly but accurately summarised by Byrne, embarrassingly blowing the gaffe.

            Britons are extremely astute when voting in general elections.

          • Thanks for the encouragement Tim. I’m sorry your daughter had a dreadful experience at school.

          • Yes – but personal experience – good or bad – is never the best springboard from which to devise, implement or support educational policy. This is why private school educated politicians have little knowledge or understanding of state schools.

      • Tim Bidie –

        Your points would be valid if they weren’t deliberate and unpleasant distortions.

        Sahlberg’s point is that these 75 “elitist” schools are no longer private schools. They are state funded. ALL schools in Finland are prevented by law to charge fees. You are now backtracking by linking his comment about the “question of private schools as kind of irrelevant” to independent schools but you originally and fallaciously made an attempt to link that comment to suggest that Sahlberg himself would deny that “abolishing private schools (would) improve the education of all our children”, the central point of Francis’ post.

        By all means mount a defence of private schools if you want, but don’t distort the achievements of Sahlberg and Finland, which got rid of them in order to give all chldren equal access to excellent education, to justify their existence.

        • Tim Bidie says:

          What Sahlberg means by ‘abolition of private schools’ is the consensual alteration of their system of funding. 75 of them still exist, as they have done since the nineteenth century. What you mean by ‘abolition of private schools’ as you have previously made clear, is to close them all down. ‘Gove might like to put his social conscience where his mouth his and start with closing down private schools’

          Sahlberg recommends reform through consensus, you recommend reform through divisive government diktat.

          I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for Finland’s education system but, as Sahlberg points out:

          ‘Many elements of Finnish successful school system are interwoven in the surrounding welfare state. Simply a transfer of these solutions would add another chapter to already exhausting volume of failed education reforms.’

          • No it is not what he meant. Independent schools are not the same here as private schools. If the UK government did the same and forbade all private schools here from charging fees, the notion of private sector, fee paying schools would also be abolished. What Finland did, therefore, and what the UK is unwilling to do, is to abolish a strata of elite schools for the elite and thereby removing the barriers which deeemed private schools superior to state funded schools,so that a level playing field of universal excellent state schools could be introduced.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            You miss my point. Sahlberg seeks consensus to achieve reform. Thus Finland retains previously independent schools, simply altering their funding mechanism. You, on the other hand, recommend closing them completely. Consensus in Finland as a way forward, conflict in the United Kingdom; a good plan, as the post heading asks, or not really?

          • Bidie –

            There was conflict in Finland when abolishing private schools was first mooted. Consensus came when the electorate saw that this would benefit the whole of Finnish society. Not just the few. So yes – a good plan and brilliantly democratic because everyone did well out of it.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            My dear fellow – Consensus arrives through compromise. Thus Finland kept their old independent schools, rather than closing them down, as you would have us do over here. The electorate, the parents, in Finland, were astonished at the PISA results rather than anticipating them, something that should give pause for thought, particularly, as I have previously observed, the Finnish PISA results are by no means replicated by other alternative assessment methods.

          • Bidie

            Fee paying schools abolished and renamed “independent” to make way for them to to funded by the tax payer and open to all. Give all other schools equal resources that Eton has enjoyed for centuries. That’s a brilliant compromise. I’m in favour of that – excellent schools, excellently and resourced up and down the country..And the Finns were surprised at how well they did in PISA for the simple reason that they eschwed all notions of competition between schools. Gove should take note and do a U-Turn.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            My dear fellow – Indeed, but you are not advocating ‘Fee paying schools abolished and renamed “independent” to make way for them to to funded by the tax payer and open to all’
            You are advocating, as you put it: ‘Gove might like to put his social conscience where his mouth his and start with closing down private schools’.

          • Indeed. Gove’s hypocrisy is astonshing. Thanks for the reminder!

          • Tim Bidie says:

            Comments written in the pub never really work.

  6. Janet I’ve put some of your notes into this blog:

    Is that okay? – I can change it if you like.

    Francis I still have no idea why you chose the aspect of Finnish education which was clearly the one which would cause war here and chose to portray it as being what this talk was all about. Why do that? Don’t you think there’s enough stress and antagonism in UK education?

    By the way if it was you doing the videoing the I was sitting next to you – my sincere apologies for not saying hello but you were busy and I didn’t recognise you. If you could publish the rest of the video that would be great.

  7. eJD8owE1 says:

    “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.”

    And yet that didn’t stop you sending your own child to one.

    • At least he saw the light and withdrew him. There are people out there, Tokyo, who went through private schools and now challenge them. The dishonesty is yours. At least Francis has the guts to use his own name and experiences. You hide behind, literally, letters and numbers to snipe. Nothing wrong in anonymity, but plenty wrong when you hide behind it to sneer and attack.

      • I find the idea of private schools being ‘the dark’ and state schools being ‘the light’ disturbing.

      • eJD8owE1 says:

        “At least he saw the light and withdrew him”

        Really? His own account says his son wasn’t enjoying it so he looked for, and found, a more appropriate school. Good move: all parents should be as sensitive to their children’s needs. There’s nothing in his account of the events to indicate that he had a damascine conversion such that he’d have withdrawn his son had he actually been enjoying the school he was at.

        And it’s a bit odd that someone who has written extensively on education policy only realised that private education was bad after his son had a bad experience: didn’t he realise they were socially divisive before his signed the cheque? What did he think they were at that point: havens of inclusivity, egalitarianism and progressive education?

        But hey: if you think the abolition (ie, criminalisation, because the charitable status is only a small part of the picture) of private education is a worthwhile campaign objective, knock yourself out. It’s almost impossible to imagine how you could frame such legislation in a way that didn’t also criminalise home education, independent tutors, Saturday madrassas, Sunday schools, ballet classes and your local piano teacher, but it would be fun to watch a political party try.

        Give it a go: when you say “abolish private schools”, what would would consist of, legislatively? Forget about the charity status: its abolition would have little effect on major private schools, as they’d just raise their fees by a bit less than 20% and throw out everyone not paying rack rate. Eton are hardly going to care. What are you going to ban?

        • Such legislation has been framed in Finland and is limited to a reasonable and obvious definition of “school”, which would reasonably and obviously exclude your ludicrous laundry list of ballet classes, independent tutors and so on. Political parties tried and succeeded in Finland.

          And you, of course, throw stones, safe in the coward’s anonymity that allows you to pass judgment on others brave enough to use their true identities whilst you reveal nothing of yourself as you go on the personal attack. Pretty low of you to claim any moral highground or outrage here.

          • eJD8owE1 says:

            “Political parties tried and succeeded in Finland.”

            Tell us more about this legislation that bans private education in Finland, and its clear and obvious definition of schools. Because I’d look at the EU report on private education in the EU (*) and note that it tells us that in Finland you can set up a school without needing Ministry of Education approval, so long as you pay some of the bills.

            “Schools under private supervision receive state aid according to the same principles as other schools but a unit price per pupils based on the state subsidy to private education providers is 90% of the municipal unit price. Howewer, for private schools already operating before 1 August 1998, the unit price is the same as the one for municipal schools. The providers of education are granted state subsidies according to the Act on Financing of Education and Culture (1998). In addition, the Act on Financing of Additional Vocational Training (1996) includes articles on the same issue.”

            And they can offer state qualifications, too:

            “Private basic and upper secondary schools have the right to award official qualification
            certificates and the majority of private vocational institutions can do the same.”

            Ah, but that’s a 2000 report. Perhaps it’s changed. But in 2008, I’d find on page 273 of “Education in Finland and the ISCED‐97″ (+)’s chapter on private education that “Private schools tend to be either foreign‐language based, or offer Waldorf‐Steiner education, or are religious schools.”

            So, I don’t believe that Finland has legislation which has a reasonable and obvious definition of school, for the simple reason that I don’t believe it has legislation that bans private schools. Indeed, it appears to have legislation which subsidises them. Now it’s perfectly possible, indeed quite probable, that I’m wrong: I don’t speak Finnish, and I don’t have a background in Finnish law, and perhaps you do and have the facts at hand. But it does seem strange that academics and EU researchers also appear not to be aware of this reasonable and obvious definition that you’re saying bans private schools, and publish lengthy articles talking about how the private schools that don’t exist operate, and how they obtain their non-existent funding. It’s all very strange.

            (*), but there’s a more readable copy in of all places the Serbian government archives at


          • So Pasi Sahlbeg is lying then and you – attacking in your anonymity – are right? I think not Tokyo Nambu!

          • Tim Bidie says:

            You can pay for education in Finland but you have to be a cultural foundation.

            ‘Professor Juha Janhunen, of the Department of Oriental Studies at Helsinki University, has been critical of judging Finland’s educational success by its PISA ratings. He argues that it is difficult to compare Finland to the US or the UK. First, as with Korean the spelling system in Finnish is very simple, meaning pupils have less trouble learning to read and write. And second, Finland is a relatively egalitarian society. Though it may be slowly changing, there are not the dramatic differences in standard of living found in the UK.

            Professor Janhunen is also concerned by the lack of streaming in Finnish education. “Finnish schools are very good at making everybody averagely good,” he said. “But this neglects excellence and talent.”

            ‘One of the clearest differences with the UK is that there is no stark social divide in secondary education. “There are no private schools in Finland,” explains Sampo Backman – despite being head at the simply titled Swedish Private School in Oulu, in the north of Finland. The name, he explains, reflects the school’s funding – by a cultural foundation rather than the state.’


          • Bidie –

            What is your point? He also goes on to say “I suppose you could say we have tuition fees of zero euros!” No one pays. Private schools mean you pay. Independent schools like the ones in Sweden means you still don’t pay.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            Private schools in this country mean you definitely pay, but into a charitable foundation.

            This is different from a cultural foundation, in the sense of not very.

  8. There are 2,600 private schools in the UK according to The Independent educating 620,000 children. Parents have the right to pay for their children’s education if they wish to do so. However, this money may not necessarily result in the highest university degrees. The Sutton Trust found that comprehensive schools pupils outperformed their equally-qualified peers from independent and grammar schools at university.
    Yet the myth persists that independent schools outperform state schools. The Independent claims that the “raw figure show academic results [are] far out-stripping those of state schools.” But once socio-economic background is factored in, state schools outperform private ones.

    The Independent recognises that “some schools set a high academic bar”. The high-achieving ones certainly do just as state grammar schools outperform non-selective ones. But the School Performance Tables don’t show the data for all independent schools. They should do.

    Paying for private education shouldn’t result in an unfair advantage over state-educated pupils. Yet ,as discussed on another thread, privately-educated pupils are disproportionately represented in certain professions and in Parliament. If this state of affairs was happening in, say, a country where 7% of the people were in a minority religion but these 7% were disproportionately found in the top professions or in Parliament, there would be a huge amount of criticism.

    Parents can pay for their children to be educated privately if they wish – but there should be no built-in advantage just because the educated is purchased rather than provided by the state. (page 13, paragraph 53)

  9. eJD8owE1 says:

    “but there should be no built-in advantage just because the educated is purchased rather than provided by the state.”

    There isn’t an in-built advantage, at least not one you can point to and say “it’s that law, that regulation and that admission requirement”. No university has an admission policy which says “extra places for the private school kids”, indeed, some operate precisely the opposite policy, and the same goes for most professions, which are keenly aware that they look bad if they are full of Eton-ites. And if there were such a blatant policy at work, it would be easy, or at least easier, to deal with. The problem is that there is a broad perception in some social circles that private education is better, and those social circles are themselves privileged and powerful, and in turn means that some of the signs of private education (the Eton drawl, the old school tie) have become shibboleths. That’s much harder to deal with, and how you do it takes longer and require more thought and subtlety than passing a law and saying it’s all OK.

  10. Alison Derwent says:

    Tim Bidie is an insufferable bore. A very bad advert for a private school education. money wasted!

    • Tim Bidie says:

      You claim that Tim Bidie is an insufferable bore yet you supply no evidence for this assertion.

      ‘A very bad advert for a private school education’. This is not a sentence. It has no verb.

      ‘money wasted!’ That may be so, but only that of the taxpayer, as with most state funding.

      • leonard james says:

        Tim you had the high ground there and then ruined it by critiquing Alison’s spag.

        • Tim Bidie says:

          The high ground is a bit dull, though, isn’t it:

          ‘As regards the pure form, the economic side of this relation — the content, outside this form, here still falls entirely outside economics, or is posited as a natural content distinct from the economic, a content about which it may be said that it is still entirely separated from the economic relation because it still directly coincides with it — then only three moments emerge as formally distinct: the subjects of the relation, the exchangers (posited in the same character); the objects of their exchange, exchange values, equivalents, which not only are equal but are expressly supposed to be equal, and are posited as equal; and finally the act of exchange itself, the mediation by which the subjects are posited as exchangers, equals, and their objects as equivalents, equal. The equivalents are the objectification [Vergegenständlichung] of one subject for another; i.e. they themselves are of equal worth, and assert themselves in the act of exchange as equally worthy, and at the same time as mutually indifferent.’

          • Alison Derwent says:

            Complete chinless wonder smug dumb a**ehole in fact….If this is how stupid and misfit they turn out, don’t send your kids to private school folks!!

          • Tim – aren’t you going back rather a long way (to 1857) to find evidence that what you define as the “high ground” is incomprehensible. Although Orwell died in 1948, his essay “Politics and the English Language” is the best critique of the sort of language you found.

            But this thread isn’t about the misuse of language, it concerns two subjects: education in Finland and private schools. Plonking links to sound tracks may be Oh-so-amusing but doesn’t move the debate on. What next? Another set of instructions about how to make a cup of tea? Perhaps you can tell us how to make a glove puppet out of an old sock and then we could respond with witticisms about where to put it.

          • Tim Bidie says:

            There is a theme, as with any good pudding, to my more eccentric links, which you clearly have not spotted.

            In any case your strictures ignore remarks less good humoured than mine and are, consequently, worthy of no consideration whatsoever.

            Your pudding may have a theme, but it lacks balance.

            In a spirit of forgiveness, here is a favourite recipe of mine:


  11. Tim – reply to comment above (7.31 21/05/12 no reply button). You raise an interesting point about the differences between the Finnish language and English with its irregular spellings. However, assessing reading in English does not seem to have harmed Canada, New Zealand and Australia which are in the ten top-performing countries in PISA tests.

    You quote Professor Janhunen. He was disappointed with the PISA 2009 results because Finland was ranked third behind Shanghai-China and Korea. He said that the Finnish system was “very good at encouraging a very good mediocre.”

    Some people, apparently, are never satisfied. And isn’t “very good mediocre” an oxymoron?

    • Not sure what Professor Janhunen meant but what has characterized the Finns I know and have met is their modesty, so perhaps it would not be in his nature to say the Finnish system was super duper A* brilliant. When they embarked on their reforms, their motive wasn’t to be the best and beat down competition. They just wanted to improve the life chances of their own citizens.

    • Tim Bidie says:

      There are a few dissenting voices in Finland, though.

      ‘Unfortunately something very tangible was left out of both articles: the lack of a feel-good factor in Finnish schools among the 11, 13 and 15-year-olds. In fact, according to PISA, Finnish youth have one of the lowest scores of any EU country when it comes to liking school a lot. And as a side note, 15-year-olds rarely have dinner with their families.

      In other words, although Finnish schools score high in various subject-related results, they score low in the emotional side of the student. I think that this is also worthy of attention. At what price do we keep stressing a student’s test scores as if they are a humanoid with a computer chip? Should the education authorities begin to see the child as a human being and not as a test-taking machine?

      What is unfortunate in all this is the child who seems to be going it alone in Finnish society, with poor wellbeing scores in family relationships too. And these low wellbeing scores are certainly nothing to brag about, which is one reason why they are hardly ever mentioned or discussed within our society. Immigrants need to take note of these facts if they wish their child to be well developed not just intellectually and but also emotionally and mentally too.’

      Recommending the closing down of all private schools in Britain, one way or another, looks unlikely to feature in any of the manifestos of the major parties in 2015.

      • Alison Derwent says:

        Tim Bidet is so panicked! scrambling around here trying to make sow’s ear out of a Finnish purse. No Finland ain’t perfect Bidet but it does well for the majority of its citizens. Sniping from the sidelines like the snivelling impotent pubic schoolboy that you are might give the moral highground but it makes you look like a middle England travesty of the real gent. awesome fake. what a loser! The Finns would wipe you out without even trying because they don’t even need to compete with the whiny schoolboy

        • Tim Bidie says:


          BYTUENE Mershe ant Averil
          When spray biginneth to spring,
          The lutel foul hath hire wyl
          On hyre lud to synge:
          Ich libbe in love-longinge
          For semlokest of alle thynge,
          He may me blisse bringe,
          Icham in hire bandoun.
          An hendy hap ichabbe y-hent,
          Ichot from hevene it is me sent,
          From alle wymmen my love is lent
          Ant lyht on Alisoun.

      • This link of yours about dissenting voices in Finland – is this the result of some research or is it just some anonymous random person having a comment? Are you seriously expecting people to give this any credibility at all??

        A FInnish educator at Pasi Sahlberg’s lecture stood up at the end and, with the modesty, generosity and grace shared by all Finns that I know, complimented the British education system by saying our children had better social skills than many Finnish children. I wouldn’t say that was a sign that “all was not rosy” in Finland. In any case, she said the Finns were working on this. Had you been at the lecture, Tim Bidie, you might not have had to resort to yet another random cut and paste job – this time so random it’s from a “university lecturer” (and I’m Monica Bellucci) – to embarrass yourself further.

        You’re probably right that none of the parties will recommend closing down private schools but this is because, so far, there is no political will to do it. By 2015, let’s see how degraded and impoverished people’s lives have become as a result of this government’s shocking record of widening social inequality and then let’s see how much more entrenched people’s attitudes will become to those who have whilst they have not. Change comes slowly. It came slowly in Finland. It has come slowly in the Middle East but change came about because the people wanted equality.

        • Tim Bidie says:

          My dear fellow – I’m delighted to hear that you have met a Finn. I’m also delighted, though not altogether surprised, to hear that you are Monica Belluci, Your oeuvres go before you.
          Indeed, let us see. Good luck with that. Regarding the Middle East, as with much else, ‘plus ca change etc. etc.’

  12. Alison Derwent says:

    Also sprecht der Arschloch

    • Tim Bidie says:


      On heu hire her is fayr ynoh,
      Hire browe broune, hire eye blake;
      With lossum chere he on me loh;
      With middel smal ant wel y-make;
      Bote he me wolle to hire take
      For to buen hire owen make,
      Long to lyven ichulle forsake
      Ant feye fallen adoun.
      An hendy hap, etc.

  13. […] of how Finland created one of the most successful school systems in the world. In this brief extract from Pasi’s talk, he explains how, in order to create a high quality universal system, the […]

  14. […] privately, if a government announced it was going to compulsorily nationalise all private schools (as Finland did), would the uproar caused be a reflection of that statistic or would it be far greater than a […]

  15. I am a Finn myself, and have spent most of my learning time within the Finnish education system. I think that the Finnish education system is good for the most part. With regard to problems such as children not feeling good in school etc. it is hard to say without research how much the problems are due to the school system, and how much other factors such as national culture, problems at home etc. play a part.

  16. […] decision to make it illegal to charge for education in Finland. Banning private education should improve education for all children. (6), […]

  17. […] Local Schools Network: Would abolishing private schools improve education of all our children? […]

  18. Alan Mathison says:

    The Finnish school system is unlikely to be perfect as is any other creation of man, but it is surely a lot nearer to being a good system than the mess that is the English system.

    How any ‘system’ could be composed of such disparate elements as the UK system and still claim to be a ‘system’? The range of independent schools is varied, the good and bad are obvious two types, but then there are the real ‘public’ schools and the private schools, the various types of independent religious schools, schools that are run as trusts and schools that are run as businesses, schools that are progressive, schools that are traditional, schools that are ‘hearty’ and those that are academic, schools that select their pupils on academic ability as well as ability to pay and those where ability to pay is the prime criterion for admission.

    The state ‘system’ is if anything even more varied, and getting more varied with every Education Secretary as each tries to leave his mark on the system.

    Such a state of educational and structural chaos could not provide a good education for the children of society, for a society so class conscious and social unequal as England it means that our children will never as a whole enjoy a good education without root and branch reform. Surely the example of Finland’s root and branch reform, of which the incorporation of the previous fee-paying schools into the Finnish state system is only a small part, should give us much food for thought.

    • Keith Griffiths says:

      The latest comprehensive research makes it clear that nothing is clear.

      ‘the most striking result of the search for correlations is the overall paucity of clear linkages. In this, our study is not alone.

      Ludger Woessmann, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich, explains that a lack of “any relationship between inputs and outputs mirrors the extensive academic literature on this topic. If you try to go beyond simple correlations, the general result is nearly always the same.”

      Chester Finn, President of the Thomas Fordham Institute, an education research organisation, and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education, agrees. “What works,” he says, “takes place inside a black box that has inputs coming in and outputs going out; but the inputs do not predict the results and what goes on in the black box is hard to quantify.”

      National cultures, particularly homogeneous national cultures (which the UK no longer has), play a significant part in educational success:

      ‘Respect for teachers, for example, is ingrained in certain cultures such as those in Finland and South Korea.’

      ‘Finally, there are cultural parallels. The two societies are highly supportive of both the school system itself and of education in general. Of course, other countries are also highly supportive of education, but what may set Finland and South Korea apart is that in both, ideas about education have also been shaped by a significant underlying moral purpose.’

      Without a homogeneous national culture, available educational choice seems to be a popular and successful option:

      ‘The benefits were greater than average for students with a lower socio-economic status where such private schools were publicly funded, as in Belgium and
      the Netherlands. Professor Woessmann, one of the authors, explains:

      “If there is more choice for parents, and more non-governmental school operators so that schools are not managed by one big state monopoly, countries perform much better.”

      But, above all:

      ‘The understanding of what inputs lead to the best educational outcomes is still basic, which is not surprising given that robust international benchmarking figures are few and often of recent date.

      Moreover, education remains an art, and much of what engenders quality is difficult to quantify.’

  19. Finnisch miracle: fata morgana?
    Finnish students’ achievement (15 y) declined significantly: study of University Helsinki
    University of Helsinki – Faculty of Behavioral Sciences, Department of Teacher of Education Research Report No 347Authors: Jarkko Hautamäki, Sirkku Kupiainen, Jukka Marjanen, Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen and Risto Hotulainen
    Learning to learn at the end of basic education: Results in 2012 and changes from 2001
    S.: The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 is significant. The level of students’ attainment has declined considerably: under the mean of the scale used in the questions. The difference can be compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA reading literacy from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the OECD average. The mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still falls above the mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has declined from 2001.
    Since 1996, educational effectiveness has been understood in Finland to include not only subject specific knowledge and skills but also the more general competences which are not the exclusive domain of any single subject but develop through good teaching along a student’s educational career. Many of these, including the object of the present assessment, learning to learn, have been named in the education policy documents of the European Union as key competences which each member state should provide their citizens as part of general education (EU 2006).
    In spring 2012, the Helsinki University Centre for Educational Assessment implemented a nationally representative assessment of ninth grade students’ learning to learn competence. The assessment was inspired by signs of declining results in the past few years’ assessments. This decline had been observed both in the subject specific assessments of the Finnish National Board of Education, in the OECD PISA 2009 study, and in the learning to learn assessment implemented by the Centre for Educational Assessment in all comprehensive schools in Vantaa in 2010.
    The results of the Vantaa study could be compared against the results of a similar assessment implemented in 2004. As the decline in students’ cognitive competence and in their learning related attitudes was especially strong in the two Vantaa studies, with only 6 years apart, a decision was made to direct the national assessment of spring 2012 to the same schools which had participated in a respective study in 2001.
    The goal of the assessment was to find out whether the decline in results, observed in the Helsinki region, were the same for the whole country. The assessment also offered a possibility to look at the readiness of schools to implement a computer-based assessment, and how this has changed during the 11 years between the two assessments. After all, the 2001 assessment was the first in Finland where large scale student assessment data was collected in schools using the Internet.
    The main focus of the assessment was on students’ competence and their learning-related attitudes at the end of the comprehensive school education, but the assessment also relates to educational equity: to regional, between-school, and between- class differences and to the relation of students’ gender and home background to their competence and attitudes.
    The assessment reached about 7 800 ninth grade students in 82 schools in 65 municipalities. Of the students, 49% were girls and 51% boys. The share of students in Swedish speaking schools was 3.4%. As in 2001, the assessment was implemented in about half of the schools using a printed test booklet and in the other half via the Internet. The results of the 2001 and 2012 assessments were uniformed through IRT modelling to secure the comparability of the results. Hence, the results can be interpreted to represent the full Finnish ninth grade population.
    Girls performed better than boys in all three fields of competence measured in the assessment: reasoning, mathematical thinking, and reading comprehension. The difference was especially noticeable in reading comprehension even if in this task girls’ attainment had declined more than boys’ attainment. Differences between the AVI-districts were small. The impact of students’ home-background was, instead, obvious: the higher the education of the parents, the better the student performed in the assessment tasks. There was no difference in the impact of mother’s education on boys’ and girls’ attainment. The between-school-differences were very small (explaining under 2% of the variance) while the between-class differences were relatively large (9 % – 20 %).
    The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 is significant. The level of students’ attainment has declined considerably. The difference can be compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA reading literacy from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the OECD average. The mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still falls above the mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has declined from 2001.
    The mean level of attitudes detrimental to learning has risen but the rise is more modest. Girls’ attainment has declined more than boys’ in three of the five tasks. There was no gender difference in the change of students’ attitudes, however. Between-school differences were un-changed but differences between classes and between individual students had grown. The change in attitudes—unlike the change in attainment—was related to students’ home background: The decline in learning-supporting attitudes and the growth in attitudes detrimental to school work were weaker the better educated the mother. Home background was not related to the change in students’ attainment, however. A decline could be discerned both among the best and the weakest students.
    The results of the assessment point to a deeper, on-going cultural change which seems to affect the young generation especially hard. Formal education seems to be losing its former power and the accepting of the societal expectations which the school represents seems to be related more strongly than before to students’ home background. The school has to compete with students’ self-elected pastime activities, the social media, and the boundless world of information and entertainment open to all through the Internet. The school is to a growing number of youngpeople just one, often critically reviewed, developmental environment among many.
    The change is not a surprise, however. A similar decline in student attainment has been registered in the other Nordic countries already earlier. It is time to concede that the signals of change have been discernible already for a while and to open up a national discussion regarding the state and future of the Finnish comprehensive school that rose to international acclaim due to our students’success in the PISA studies.

  20. View of Finnish teachers versus view of Pasi Sahlberg
    Oxford- Prof. Jennifer Chung ( AN INVESTIGATION OF REASONS FOR FINLAND’S SUCCESS IN PISA (University of Oxford 2008).
    “Many of the teachers mentioned the converse of the great strength of Finnish education (= de grote aandacht voor kinderen met leerproblemen) as the great weakness. Jukka S. (BM) believes that school does not provide enough challenges for intelligent students: “I think my only concern is that we give lots of support to those pupils who are underachievers, and we don’t give that much to the brightest pupils. I find it a problem, since I think, for the future of a whole nation, those pupils who are really the stars should be supported, given some more challenges, given some more difficulty in their exercises and so on. To not just spend their time here but to make some effort and have the idea to become something, no matter what field you are choosing, you must not only be talented like they are, but work hard. That is needed. “
    Pia (EL) feels that the schools do not motivate very intelligent students to work. She thinks the schools should provide more challenges for the academically talented students. In fact, she thinks the current school system in Finland does not provide well for its students. Mixed-ability classrooms, she feels, are worse than the previous selective system: “ I think this school is for nobody. That is my private opinion. Actually I think so, because when you have all these people at mixed levels in your class, then you have to concentrate on the ones who need the most help, of course. Those who are really good, they get lazy. “
    Pia believes these students become bored and lazy, and float through school with no study skills. Jonny (EM) describes how comprehensive education places the academically gifted at a disadvantage: “We have lost a great possibility when we don’t have the segregated levels of math and natural sciences… That should be once again taken back and started with. The good talents are now torturing themselves with not very interesting education and teaching in classes that aren’t for their best.
    Pia (EL) finds the PISA frenzy about Finland amusing, since she believes the schools have declined in recent years: “I think [the attention] is quite funny because school isn’t as good as it used to be … I used to be proud of being a teacher and proud of this school, but I can’t say I ’m proud any more.”
    Aino (BS) states that the evenness and equality of the education system has a “dark side.” Teaching to the “middle student” in a class of heterogeneous ability bores the gifted students, who commonly do not perform well in school. Maarit (DMS) finds teaching heterogeneous classrooms very difficult. She admits that dividing the students into ability levels would make the teaching easier, but worries that it may affect the self-esteem of the weaker worse than a more egalitarian system Similarly, Terttu (FMS) thinks that the class size is a detriment to the students’ learning. Even though Finnish schools have relatively small class sizes, she thinks that a group of twenty is too large, since she does not have time for all of the students: “You don’t have enough time for everyone … All children have to be in the same class. That is not so nice. You have the better pupils. I can’t give them as much as I want. You have to go so slowly in the classroom.” Curiously, Jukka E. (DL) thinks that the special education students need more support and the education system needs to improve in that area.
    Miikka (FL) describes how he will give extra work to students who want to have more academic challenges, but admits that “they can get quite good grades, excellent grades, by doing nothing actually, or very little.” Miikka (FL) describes discussion in educational circles about creating schools and universities for academically talented students: 3 Everyone has the same chances…One problem is that it can be too easy for talented students. There has been now discussion in Finland if there should be schools and universities for talented students… I think it will happen, but I don’t know if it is good, but it will happen, I think so. I am also afraid there will be private schools again in Finland in the future … [There] will be more rich people and more poor people, and then will come so [many] problems in comprehensive schools that some day quite soon … parents will demand that we should have private schools again, and that is quite sad.

    Linda (AL), however, feels the love of reading has declined in the younger generation, as they tend to gravitate more to video games and television. Miikka (FL), also a teacher of mother tongue, also cites a decline in reading interest and an increase of video game and computer play. Saij a (BL) agrees. As a teacher of Finnish, she feels that she has difficulty motivating her students to learn: “I think my subject is not the … easiest one to teach. They don’t read so much, newspapers or novels.” Her students, especially the boys, do not like their assignments in Finnish language. She also thinks the respect for teachers has declined in this past generation. Miikka (FL) also thinks his students do not respect their teachers: “They don’t respect the teachers. They respect them very little … I think it has changed a lot in recent years. In Helsinki, it was actually earlier. When I came here six years ago, I thought this was heaven. I thought it was incredible, how the children were like that after Helsinki, but now I think it is the same.
    Linda (AL) notes deficiency in the amount of time available for subjects. With more time, she would implement more creative activities, such as speech and drama, into her lessons. Saij a (BL) also thinks that her students need more arts subjects like drama and art. She worries that they consider mathematics as the only important subject. Shefeels countries such as Sweden, Norway, and England have better arts programs than in Finnish schools. Arts subjects, according to Saij a, help the students get to know themselves. Maarit (DMS), a Finnish-speaker, thinks that schools need to spend more time cultivating social skills.

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

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