The new Sutton Trust scheme will reinforce existing segregation in schools

Janet Downs's picture
"Despite its unquestionable commitment to breaking down the educational barriers faced by disadvantaged children,  the Sutton Trust has got it wrong this time," says Fiona Millar in the Guardian.  Read her report here.
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Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 17:14

My immediate impression after a perusal of Sutton Trust's website and their projects a few months ago was that they're a right wing think tank with the sanctimonious mandate to "ensure that the very few rough diamonds are lifted out of the mire" ... their proposed policy to put the very bright disadvantaged kids in private schools only confirms this.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 17:37

One of my favourites is the Sutton Trust's report of 2009 "Teach Primary - Improving the Status and Quality of Primary School Teaching" in which they proudly and ground breakingly conclude that the way to improve Primary teaching in disadvantaged areas is to ......wait for it wait for it " pay the teachers more money " and sex up the pRiamry School image and create multi priamry school trusts.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 12/06/2012 - 21:46

This is a deeply ignorant report.

I have three particular concerns about it.

1. Oxbridge shouldn't be full of people who've been to top schools and have no experience in the real world. We should bring people through from the real world. We can do that if we take them away from their communities and educate them elsewhere because they will no longer be rooted in those communities.

2. I've written at length on this forum about what actually needs to be done to improve access to top universities for students from the most challenging backgrounds. There need there to be communication between the interviewing university and the school before interviews to ensure that the first part of their interview puts them in a context where they properly demonstrate their abilities. That's it. It's not hard and it's not rocket science. Students from middle class backgrounds already get in to top universities from comps anyway so why take them out of their communities where they have such a positive effect on the students around them and put them in private schools?

3. "The paper builds on our experience at the Belvedere Girls’ School, Liverpool, where together with Girls Day School Trust, we ran an Open Access scheme with outstanding results."
Does it properly analyse what has happened to the state sector which is left behind with all these girls stripped out? Certainly I don't see any of the issues which were discussed at a recent union meeting I was at in Liverpool appearing here.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 08:21

'the Finnish dream of every child having access to a good school could not be realised if a parallel system of fee-paying schools existed. Over time, nearly all were merged into the comprehensive state system with stunning results.'

Well, stuff my old boots with fragrant cedar sawdust, if it ain't deja vu all over again!

When Mr Sahlberg was asked a pointed question by Melissa Benn on this very topic the other day, he said: 'this question of private schools is kind of irrelevant.'

Mr Sahlberg then further commented that, at the time the reforms in Finland were conceived, through cross party consensus, they had an 'emergency' situation.

The Finnish reforms addressed that emergency so that academically talented children no longer had to leave school at 15 years old.

As this blog continually reminds us, we do not have an emergency educational situation in this country.

We do have localised emergency situations in individual schools which the current cross party consensual reforms are designed to remedy.

The world has looked on in stunned amazement as this country has cast away its pre-eminence in so many areas of industry, commerce and geopolitics.

To the world at large, we already closely resemble the backside of an Ostrich seeking cover.

How could it possibly benefit anyone for Great Britain to close down yet another of its areas of international excellence, namely its justly renowned private educational sector?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 09:20

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's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 12:32

Thanks for taking time out to reply.

Mr Sahlberg is a very clever man.

He clearly realised that the interrogator had an agenda.

His response was masterly:

Do we have an educational emergency in Britain comparable to Finland in 1970?

Clearly not.

Do we have cross party consensus on educational reform as they did in Finland in 1970?

Clearly we do and it is delivering educational reforms targeted at the localised and specific problems that we do have.

Does that consensus believe that there would be any kind of utility in closing down the hugely successful, internationally admired, foreign currency earning, job providing, private educational sector in this country?


Does Mr Sahlberg approve of the use of state diktat to circumscribe the rights of individuals?

I think I know the answer but I can't find the reference.

Why don't you guys ask him that next time?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 12:52

Why don't you get better informed before misrepresenting him? And Melissa Benn did not interrogate him. Had you been there you might have seen that he clearly does not favour the GERM infecting British and American education and that private schools were a barrier to improving education for all. The consensus in Finland was that equality could only be achieved by removing privcate schools. What they have now is, to quote back at you, a " hugely successful, internationally admired, job providing, [state[ educational sector?" What is the point of what you insist is an internationally admired British private school system when it benefits so few? In Finland, it benefits everyone. That is truly admirable.

State diktat? Had you been there Bidie, instead of sitting at home making things up, you would have seen and heard that the Finnish state did indeed decide to abolish private schools and you would have learnt that it was red hot topic. But the Finns had the will to do something radical and they achieved it and along the way the close the inequality gap. There is little will here and there is even less under the Tories, who would prefer to keep the gap wide so that the masters can keep the servants in their place.

Consensus? I bet if you asked people in a survey if all state schools had the recources of top private schools (not the minor public schools) would they be happy to see them closed down, they would say yes. They wouldn't give two hoots that they were internationally admired when all state schools would be and they certainly would give a damn that a dribble of foreign currency was no longer coming in. Private schools lose their appeal when, like Finland, all state schools are better. They begin to look rather parastic.

Why don't you study what Finland was like in the 1970s and come back and tell us how how much further we need to regress until we reach an educational emergency? The Gove and Cameron talk, the public have been frightened into thinking there is an emergency. So blame the Tories for the scare mongering.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 15:43

Thank you very much for your detailed response.

I was not intentionally using interrogator in any pejorative sense, simply as a more interesting word than questioner.

The formal question was both well put and interesting.

Private schools were clearly felt to have some kind of deleterious effect in Finland in 1970 but, as Mr Sahlberg stated, only their funding mechanism was in fact changed.

75 of them still exist, he went on to say, unchanged since the 19th century.

To answer your question about the point of the educational private sector, the entire political establishment is crying out for the creation of increased private sector employment, but you, it seems, are not.

I admire your conviction but puzzle as to what lies behind its steadfastness in the face of its clear economic and political disadvantages.

If you really want to improve the education of the most disadvantaged in this country, it seems strange for you to call for measures that will require substantial increases in taxation levels, which, in their turn, will bear down most on the very people you claim to want to help.

The question you have to ask, to establish consensus, is whether people would prefer the levels of VAT in Finland (23%, set to increase to 24% next year) in order to pay for the enforced closure of a substantial net contributing economic sector.

I'm not too sure what you mean by masters and servants in Britain in 2012. That seems to be a bit of a digression.

I have been thrilled to discover, whilst reading posts on this blog, that the state educational sector in Britain, far from regressing, is improving in leaps and bounds and has been, apparently, since before written records.

The people of England, scared? Not in my lifetime.

'This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,'

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 16:38

None of this nonsense addresses why you consistently feel the need to misrepresent and misquote what Sahlberg actually said and meant. You undermine what opinion you may have by betraying a spectacular ignorance about Sahlberg, Finland and the history of state education in this country from 1944. Perhaps this is the fruit of your private school education. Too much superifical cut and pasting being passed off as profound knowledge to hoodwink the hoipolloi. It all breaks down and you are unmasked as the fake when you are engaging with people here (far more authoritative than the likes of you and me) who have actually read the books, done the hours of research and turned up for the lectures.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 13:40

The Sutton Trust says that their scheme is targeted at only 1% of students and so will have very little discernible impact on state schools.

The idea would offer very bright kids whose local schools don't have the skills or resources to allow them fully to develop their potential to go to a school that does.

I can't see what's wrong with that.

If someone were to say we shouldn't feed any starving children in Africa because we cannot feed all starving children in Africa, we'd think they were nuts. Yet when the equivalent argument is deployed in an education context people on LSN go along with it.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 13:53

"I can’t see what’s wrong with that."

It would be worth you coming to the kind of union meeting I was at with Stephen Twigg in Liverpool recently where the issues associated with the state having to educate girls:boys in the ratio 1:4 in Liverpool despite all their efforts to prevent this state of affairs were being discussed.

"If someone were to say we shouldn’t feed any starving children in Africa because we cannot feed all starving children in Africa, we’d think they were nuts."
Not as nuts as if someone in the UK said it's okay to treat our students in ordinary state schools like starving children in Africa.

"The Sutton Trust says that their scheme is targeted at only 1% of students and so will have very little discernible impact on state schools."
That would be the case if the 1% were spread evenly across the country but it isn't. So it has a dramatic effect in some locations and no effect in others. Therefore it has a significant effect.

If you can't work out how to get students from challenging comps to Oxbridge then why don't you ask someone like me who's been doing this with substantial success for years and understands what needs to be done and what needs to be subtly changed Ricky?

It is because you prefer talking to posh people in posh clubs over posh lunches rather than dealing with ordinary people?

O. Spencer's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 18:44

For the sake of argument, assuming some magical political consensus emerges in the next parliament (say for instance a Lab-Lib coalition) that private schools should be abolished, wouldn't Fiona's observation,

"Displaced private school parents would probably not make a beeline for the local state school. As the Sutton Trust has pointed out in many other reports, this group has a tendency to do just the reverse, using sharp elbows, willingness to travel and ability to manipulate the admissions system to monopolise places in the most sought-after state schools, however far away, thereby displacing other local parents"

be just as accurate?

The existence of private schools serves as an outlet, or end-point, through which the middle-classes can ensure educational excellence (so they suppose when applying - I do not claim this is the result for all) for their children - it replaces the need for sharp elbows, politicking, editing the local parish magazine to get into the local church school, etc. 'Sharp elbows' can be replaced with the simple act of fee-paying, and perhaps a worthwhile 'investment' on a tutor for the entrance exams.

My point is - the abolition of private schools will not remove the basis of 'sharp elbows', as Fiona rightly observes with no private schools available the middle classes will find alternative methods of avoiding 'the local school'. There will doubtless be, as there are now, enclaves of comprehensive-in-name-but-not-in-fact schools, such as the London Oratory et. al, only these will become more widespread.

So, I don't think the solution lies in abolishing independent schools. Fiona agrees that the existence of independent schools is NOT the sine qua non of a greater social composition of state schools - if independent schools were abolished, there would be other 'methods' for securing an education for your children that is not 'the local comp'.

This is why I think Allan's comment that "Private schools lose their appeal when, like Finland, all state schools are better. They begin to look rather parasitic" misses the point.

Private schools would of course lose their appeal if they were abolished! However, the point is that it would be foolish to overlook the fostering and even widening of a 'two-tier' state system in which the upper-tier becomes increasingly filled up with the sharp-elbowed and 'would-be' independent school users, and the other tier of the type of state school which would still not include the privileged children who currently are educated in the independent sector.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 19:11

I have a very bright child ...however I won't be applying for a Sutton Trust place in an independent school.... I would worry too much about the sort of people he was meeting and values he was getting at an independent school .... what if he came home a twat n a cravat???? unthinkable

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 13/06/2012 - 21:46

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 15:03

The Trust studied one school in Liverpool, The Belvedere Girls' School, which is now a fully state funded academy sponsored by the Girls' Day School Trust. Although an academy, its intake is that of a grammar school. The 2011 cohort had 80% high attainers - only 3% were low attainers. The actual number of low attainers was 2.

The Academy was opened in September 2007 from a successful independent school. As Labour academies were supposed to have been established from low-performing schools serving disadvantaged pupils then this raises the question why this independent school was allowed to become an academy. It is a good school - outstanding according to Ofsted. But when those who support academies as a means of turning schools around say that sponsored academies have been a success because more are judged outstanding than other state schools, perhaps they are forgetting that some were outstanding to start with.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 15:20

What the Sutton Trust are suggesting is that it should be easier for bright (very bright, that is) pupils whose parents could not afford private school fees to enter private education. This supposes that private education is better than that offered by the state.

The Trust notes that OECD found that there was a gap between privately-educated and state-educated pupils in the UK and this gap was greater than in any other OECD country. This is correct but what the Trust should have said (and it appeared in the next sentence so could not have been missed) was that UK state schools outperformed private schools when socio-economic background was taken into account. And OECD also said that the best-performing school systems globally are those that do not segregate children academically or geographically. (page 455)

The Trust seems to have forgotten its earlier research which found that comprehensive school pupils outperform their equally qualified peers from private or grammar schools at university. This prompted Sir Peter Lampl to say, "These findings provide further evidence that universities are right to take into account the educational context of students when deciding whom to admit - alongside other information on their achievements and potential."

A reminder from the Trust of that fact would do far more to ensure bright, disadvantaged children gain university places at the best universities and enter top jobs than a scheme which would shoehorn a few into a private education.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 15:40

Not all private schools are, in any case, beacons of excellence. Ofsted's Annual Report 2011 found that 4% of the non-associated* independent schools inspected by Ofsted were inadequate. In 2/3 of the schools pupils made good progress but teaching was only outstanding in 7% - teaching was often well-planned but seldom inspiring.

The Sutton Trust emphasised that "teachers in independent schools are seven times more likely to have graduated from Oxbridge, and five times more likely to have a PhD." This was especially likely in shortage subjects. But what it didn't say is that independent schools don't have to employ qualified teachers. And the Trust recognised that such high qualifications are "not everything" - having a deep subject knowledge doesn't necessarily correlate with the ability to pass this knowledge on.

*Non-associated private schools are those which are not members of independent schools associations who are inspected by independent inspectorates. There are 2,400 independent schools in England educating 7% of English children. Just over half are members of independent schools associations.

andy's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 18:49

For goodness sake people, who oh, why do we have to go around the same tired old positions?

Can we please acknowledge that The Finnish revolution was neither an overnight sensation nor the result of (a) abolishing fee-paying schools and (b) scrapping its equivalent of Ofsted. Yes, they did those two things but they did a whole heap lots more too. I am heartily sick of the partisan posturing that reflects deeply held political viewpoints rather than a genuine deeply held conviction that education is there for our children and succeeding generations. So let us put energies into resolving the huge question of what the nature and scope of education should look like in the England and then set about working toward the fundamentally crucial watershed of cross party agreement and support for an education system in which politicians and other vested interests have no part to play.

Apart from anything else it is also noteworthy that the Finnish system/model is not the only one that gains world recognition and envy. Try the Singaporean, the Hong Kong and Canadian models too. There is no one size fits all educational model and the cultural differences and attitudes to education (even down to literacy and numeracy at home) have a massive impact on how you adapt successful models to best fit our perceived needs. I hate to say this but the latter will not sit well with some because unlike the Finns these countries did not abolish fee-paying schools.

So please lets get off personal hobby horses and focus on the real issue Education.

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 21:03

Andy, You sum up exactly why so few people visit this site. The tiny number of contributors gives the game away. In all honesty, as a parent and educational outsider, I am so blinded with hatred of the paucity of aspiration and blinkered bigotry of so much commentary here that I am incapable of any constructive contribution. I must bow out.This whole blog is about as much use as a self licking lollipop.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 21:18

That you are blind with the hatred of the truly phobic is not in doubt! You won't be missed, assuming people have even noticed you've slunk off.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 20:15

If you are fed up with people expressing their support for a model education system that has been proven to work as opposed to the American one adopted by Gove, which has failed for 20 years, why don't you ignore it or go away?

Do you seriously think that those of us who admire Finland are unaware of the advances made in Ontario and some tiger economy nations??

You bleat on about one size does not fit all but this is precisely what Gove is doing and what the Finnish do NOT do. Have you any idea how wealthy HK and Singapore are? Like Finland, the equality gap is very small. Shanghai? No point in trumpeting Shanghai schools when education in many parts of China lags far behind.

Finland did do a whole heap more than scrapping fee paying schools and abolishing the school inspectorate and we don't need you to chide us to remember Finnish school reform wasn't built in a day. The point is the Finns had the political will to close the equality gap and that is one significant reason why their education policy had every chance of succeeding.

Thank you very much, Andy, but from the vantage point of my hobby horse, I am focusing on "Education". I suggest you come off your high horse or go and play with your toys on your own.

andy's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 20:28

And so the Allan shows his true colours in all their venom. The politics of envy is till alive and well then. Neither Govian nor Finnish models will suit. But your blinkers certainly fit and you are welcome to them. Btw the PISA report refers to Canada not just a single province.

The Finnish system evolved from scratch based on a deconstructed and reconstructed educational model to suit their needs. It is precisely because of this that it cannot be superimposed on England or any other country. There again politically motivated devotees with a single track focus of abolishing the democratic rights of parents to choose how they dispose of their own money simply wouldn't understand that.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 21:15

Your last comment reveals more about you than it does me.

I've no idea how " politically motivated devotees with a single track focus of abolishing the democratic rights of parents to choose how they dispose of their own money simply wouldn’t understand that" because that is not me. Perhaps you will ride off into the sunset with your admirer Bidie and we won't have to put up with your crude persecution of Rebecca Hanson. And you have the nerve to label me as venom

andy's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 21:50

The two faced hectoring bully simply doesn't like it when anyone stands up to him and stands their own ground. Allan's version of free speech is clearly the preserve of all that agree with him and woe be upon anyone who has the audacity to hold a different opinion.

For the record, I have perscuted no-one. My contributions have been just that mine and where appropriate I have stood my ground and disagreed with others; including Tim and Ricky. I well recall my first encounter with you when you interjected on something I posted but it wasn't simply a counterpoint it was hectoring and overbearing. There again, I supposed that is but a reflection of your true character - people disagree wtih you at their peril ...

Sorry to disappoint you but I've been one to succumb to bullies: in real life or online. But hey, if you're busy trying to pick on me I have the satisfaction of knowing that you are leaving some else alone.

andy's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:07

Although statistics are notorious for the way they can and often are manipulated to present and support the narrative you want, it would appear that the trend at Oxbridge is nowhere near a tilted toward fee-paying schools as they once were:

"In 2009, state school students made up a total of 59 per cent of Cambridge University’s intake and 54 per cent of Oxford’s."

"State school pupils receive 58.5% of offers for 2011 admissions."

The potential flaw in these statistics could be that they are not representative of the percentage of 'AAA' A Levels gained by state pupils v fee-paying schools. But a further potential twist could be that not all the state triple A pupils apply for Oxbridge, which begs the question why not expand the measure from Oxbridge to the wider Russell Group? Damn those stats!

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 07:21

I hadn't realise that Aimhigher has been shut down (mainly because it's still running at my son's school but that's only tail end stuff already planned).

I find that news very, very worrying. I've mentioned it over on the top thread:
if you, or anyone else, want to pick up on it Andy.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 08:12

andy - you make an important point about why the measure used by the Government to attack state schools (ie the number of state pupils at Oxbridge) isn't expanded to all Russell Group universities. Why should Oxbridge be the only universities to which pupils should aspire? There might be valid reasons why pupils choose other universities. That said, the Sutton Trust found that independent school pupils are twice as likely to gain places in the "Sutton Trust 30". The Trust explains this as follows:

"Such differences cannot be explained by the ability range, but may be influenced by parental backgrounds, geography, curriculum and information, advice and guidance (IAG). One important factor for selective university entry is the sixth-form curriculum. The Russell Group universities have issued a list of ‘facilitating’ subjects that are valued more highly by for entrance than some of the newer vocational A levels. Over the past 15 years, there has been a significant fall in the numbers of ‘facilitating’ subjects taken, with comprehensive schools and colleges introducing a disproportionate share of the other subjects in order to appeal to a wider range of young people."

So comprehensive schools are criticised because they have a smaller proportion of pupils attending the top universities - this is interpreted to mean that they are not as "good" as independents or grammars. However, the reason is that they (like FE Colleges) cater for a wider range for pupils and don't just concentrate on those likely to attend top unis.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:09

All too passive-aggressive and faux victimization here. And - not for the first, second or third time - off post, Andy, so lets just acknowledge now the shameful and vicious way you sought to discredit and humiliate a regular contributor here. Your phony outrage is risible.

andy's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:13

What is risible is the way in which you use another contributor to try and deflect attention from your aggressive posturing, which is truly shameful.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:30

30 years ago it's understandable why people should be worrying about whether they could prevent decline in Liverpool. But now????? Why is it part of your thinking Ricky? Did you read this article and think - woohoo - something Thatcher didn't manage - I can make that happen now?

A Guest's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:31


You have been vile with Rebecca Hanson on this site to the extent that you dragged over to here a whole list of things you accused her of doing on the TES site. It was cruel and unnecessary and irrelevant and got you reprimanded by the moderator. You are the foul bully here
Alan Beavis is just disagreeing with you robustly as opponents on the house of Commons do. you made disgraceful slurs about Rebecca and even her mental health. What a nauseating hypocrite you are.

andy's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 08:14


You are of course entitled to your opinion.

Speaking of slurs you may wish to reflect on the fact that I did not drag a whole list of things across here from TES, that was done by others who joined the thread.

You should also note that everyone involved was reminded of the protocol by the moderator.

But do feel free to target me from your blissful anonymity because as with Allan it means you are leaving some else alone.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 14/06/2012 - 22:47

Please stop it guys.

I actually like you all.

It's really natural and easy to get angry with people on forums but it's never helpful.

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