John Simkin Posted December 7, 2004 Share Posted December 7, 2004 Article in today's Guardian by Polly Curtis: http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/st...1368427,00.html According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international Paris-based thinktank, Finnish education is the best in the world. The study of test results from 250,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries ranked it number one in science and reading and second only to Hong Kong in maths. The UK, meanwhile, did not submit enough information to be included in the study. However, a crude analysis, which was dismissed by the Department for Education and Skills as incomparable and relegated to the annexes of the 400-page report, suggested that in the three years since the survey was last undertaken, the UK has dropped from fourth place to 11th in science, seventh to 11th in reading and eighth to 18th in maths. So what is Finland doing right? Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, says just about everything. "They have no league tables, no Ofsted, no literacy/numeracy hours, no heavy government interference generally. "The lessons from that is screamingly self-evident; dismantle much of the intervention machinery and have just a thin outline of policy." Which is what the Finns do. There is a national curriculum, but it's more of a guide on which teachers base their lessons around. The only national exams are the school-leaving ones at 18. In comparison, English children are tested on a national basis at seven, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18. Instead of national tests and the school league tables constructed from them, the Finns do an annual sample test to gauge school standards. Essentially, schools are given much more autonomy. Erno Lehtinen, a professor of education at the University of Turku, the second largest university in Finland, and policy advisor to an influential thinktank of the Finnish parliament, says the idea that schools should be run from the centre, or even have their test results published, is unthinkable in Finland. "Apart from those at 18 all the examinations are local so that teachers themselves are not controlled. They [the government] are not allowed to publish the results of individual schools, because according to our policy all that will do is increase the differences between the schools and it doesn't help very much," he says. What is unique about the Finn system, says Professor Lehtinen, is that in the 1960s a decision was made to have a comprehensive system - a decision that has been stuck to. "There is very little variation in standards. There are differences in achievement because of background, but the quality of teaching is as good in inner city working class areas as in upper class areas." This is made easier partly because there is less social variation in Finland. The country has a more homogenous population, but even where deprivation does exist, school standards are maintained. There is practically no private system to drain-off the brighter pupils, and where private schools do exist it is because they are specialist - such as Steiners, foreign language and the odd Christian school - but all are state subsidised, meaning all children have access to them. But there may be an even simpler reason why Finnish education is such a success. "There is a very strong support for education. It's very highly valued in the culture," says Professor Lehtinen. "In the lower social groups, among the working class, education is very highly valued. That's one very important reason that means across the whole society there is very strong support for schools." This is particularly felt towards teachers; the profession is seen on a par with law and medicine, although still not as well paid. In Finland, even primary school teachers have to be educated to masters level. Professor Wragg says this is a marked difference from the UK. "I'm afraid that teachers are paying the price of being rubbished by successive governments." Both professors agree there's a lot to learn from the Finnish system, although the social differences are, in many ways, harder to overcome - a more diverse population in the UK, for example. But Professor Wragg adds: "The 2002 Education Act stipulates that teachers are supposed to apply in writing to ministers with their plans to innovate. In Finland the idea that you should have to ask to innovate and fill in a form is unthinkable. In Finland you're permitted organic growth. You try to improve and if it works better you carry on. I think we've got the wrong educational climate." Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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