Private schools dubbed 'the antithesis of social inclusion';News;News amp; Opinion

10th December 1999 at 00:00
ONE OF SCOTLAND'S most respected researchers has warned the Government that it will not solve the problems of the socially excluded if its policies focus on them to the exclusion of wider issues.

Professor Pamela Munn, associate dean of the faculty of education at Edinburgh University, said such an approach would be doomed to failure, "just as countless compensatory education policies for the disadvantaged have failed in the past."

In a hard-hitting address, the latest in the Lothian European lectures, Professor Munn also attacked the role of independent schools. She claimed they sustained class divisions and were the antithesis of social inclusion. There was a lack of political will to tackle the issue, she said, largely due to the small proportion of the population who educate their children privately.

"We do not choose to be born and we do not choose our parents," Professor Munn said. "The provision of high quality, freely accessible schooling then ought to be the hallmark of a civilised society aspiring to be socially inclusive. It is noteworthy that, while a great deal of attention has been focussed on the improvement of state education, there has been no debate about the role of independent schools in a socially inclusive Scotland or UK. Access to these schools, as we know, is largely determined by ability to pay. Indeed, part of the cachet is their exclusivity, the very fact that not everyone can attend, the antithesis of social inclusion, in fact."

In response to a question, Professor Munn made it clear she supported choice and diversity in education. She said parents should be allowed to choose between different kinds of school, but this choice should not be based on ability to pay.

Ironically, Moray House Institute, where Professor Munn works, sends students on placement to private schools. She confessed to having "no easy answer" to what to do about private schools. But she suggested there was much greater scope for collaboration with state schools.

Professor Munn did praise the emphasis on social inclusion and the successes of many schools. But she said a rethink was required on teachers' professional development, the approach to the curriculum, and the "inclusivity" of schools themselves.

And schools could not act alone. "Measures to reduce unemployment and child poverty and changes in the tax and benefit system are the drivers which will help schools perform their role in social inclusion," she said.

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