Race to the Finnish line

Perennial questions that keep resurfacing:

What’s the Finnish secret?  and Should UK education become more like Finland?

Perhaps though, we have more in common with Finland than we think?

The 2010 OECD report on education in Finland lists a number similarities to UK initiatives:

  • A core curriculum that has become increasingly less prescriptive
  • Choice for schools and teachers on the text books and methods they use
  • A comprehensive system, with no selection
  • High numbers of immigrants in the capital, Helsinki;
  • Early intervention for children with additional learning needs to keep all children in main stream schools if possible  (Latest election campaigning suggests this is about to get a welcome big boost in England)
  • School meals for all
  • Links with industry
  • High levels of formative assessment and measurement (sound like AfL to anyone?)

They also have some things we profess to like/ aspire to,  such as:

  • High esteem on vocational training, often integrated with academic training

Arguably we could do better on all of the above.The UK has recently stepped back from the following, although Finland holds them important:

  • Modular exams
  • Individualised learning programmes for all upper secondary school students promoting real flexibility and choice
  • Full service pastoral care in all schools  (we used to call this the Every Child Matters initiative coupled with Sure Start)
  • University based ITT underpinned by a 5 year Masters degree.

Finally, Finland seems to differ strongly with the UK on:

  • Accountability via sampling, to help schools
  • Strong home-school links
  • Abolished setting/ streaming
  • Trust in teachers

And very sadly,  both countries are bad at:

  • Continuing professional training for teachers

However there are a few things that England does which Finland does not.  Is the difference between our systems more defined by what the English do additionally?  Might a dose of ‘less be more’ for English education? Looking to the UK’s top private schools could be good instruction.  These highly performing institutions:

  • Teach fewer days per year
  • Focus more on character building, community service and meta-cognitive development
  • Trust teachers more
  • Have generally opted out of league tables
  • Offer more curriculum choice and flexibility to pupils

While these schools also benefit from high levels of funding and family advantage, this does not explain all of private schools’ success. Perhaps there’s a lesson in this.

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