Copy Finland, says Tory leader of education committee. He’s right.

Janet Downs's picture

Neil Carmichael, Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, doesn’t support plans to expand selective education.  Speaking at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Secondary Moderns, Carmichael repeated his criticism of grammar schools. 

But his remarks implied extension of selection was a foregone conclusion.  He urged the Government to ensure new grammars would only be set up within Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs).  

‘Any future selective school could be in a multi academy trust, so that young people can move around.

Some MATs already do this, he said, by moving pupils into UTCs or studio schools within the group.  But most UTCs are half empty with two out of three experiencing a fall in pupil numbers.  Seven have already closed or will shortly.  And 15 out of 36 studio schools are to shut their doorsIt was perhaps unwise of Carmichael to cite UTCs and studio schools as a way forward.

Carmichael praised Finland’s education system:

In Finland, you can start at any level and go through both technical and academic routes, not kept just in one route, and that’s the best way.’

He used this to justify ‘fluidity’ within MATs where children move between academic and vocational academies. 

The system that impresses me is Finland where the vocational and academic routes for pupils are one mix, so there is not a dead end.

If ‘vocational and academic’ are ‘one mix’, this implies a fully comprehensive system.  But that’s not what Carmichael is suggesting.  And neither is the present Government when it talks of fluidity in a new selective system.  It says the proposals would allow pupils to move between selective and non-selective (aka secondary modern) schools. 

Leave aside problems associated with this supposed flexibility: promoting some pupils means demoting others; how promoted children from the ‘dead end’ will catch up with those who’ve been fast tracked; transport costs…  Is Carmichael right to imply Finnish children float between different streams after age 11?

He is not.  All children in Finland follow the same comprehensive, nine-year ‘basic’ education from ages 7-16.  It is only in upper secondary (the three year equivalent of our two-year post-16 routes) when pupils can decide between vocational or general education.  It is disingenuous to justify selection at 11 by comparing it with a system which doesn’t segregate until 16.

Carmichael, like other Tory MPs uneasy about grammars, are likely to fight their seats in the election.  That means signing up to the Conservative Manifesto which is likely to include increased selection at 11.  A cynic might say this is one of the intentions for calling a snap election (along with the suggestion that an early election will take place before police investigations into Tory malpractice regarding election expenses in 2015 are completed).  It keeps Tory grammar school rebels in line.

Carmichael may be muddled about how Finland’s education system works, but he’s right to call for a system like Finland’s.  That’s a fully comprehensive system up to age 16 where no child is labelled bright or dim at age 11.

ADDENDUM  11.10 1 May 2017.   I have now heard from Sirkku Nikamaa-Linder of Helsinki University, Finland.  She confirms my interpretation of the Finnish education system and adds:

1         All Finnish students must finish basic education (9th grade, age 16).  There are no vocational tracks for pupils in basic education (classes 0-9).

2         Education is no longer compulsory after 9th grade but over 98%-99% continue to upper secondary.

3         Upper secondary takes place in either vocational or more academic high schools.

4         Roughly 40% of Finnish students attend vocational schools, 60% attend high school.

5         There is no national examination at the end of 9th grade (age 16).  Selection to secondary schools is based on the final report card, mostly grade point average.

A flow chart showing how education in Finland work is here.

UPDATE 11.11 2 May 2017.  The article has been amended to include link to Schools Week article re UTCs.  It was not available on line when the article was first posted.


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