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What can we learn from the Finns?

This is a very good piece in The Atlantic:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/#.Tv3aqQ-SLlZ.twitter

Essentially it is argued that an educational system based on cooperation rather than competition, with no private schools, little accountability or inspection, no standardised tests or league tables, no streaming or tracking, well paid and highly qualified teachers, achieves better results than the American or British model. In answer to those critics who point out that Finland is a small, relatively wealthy and socially homogeneous nation with 600 000 pupils as opposed to the 7 million or so in England and Wales, the article cites evidence that other educational jurisdictions including Norway or some states in the USA, with similar levels of wealth and social homogeneity, still do less well. Norway's model, for example, is more like the American than the Finnish.

All this should lead us to question our own heavily bureaucratic system which tests children repeatedly and sets school against school, department against department, teacher against teacher. Has all the accountability we now see in Britain led to higher standards? My guess is that it has had some effect, but that (and this is a major hunch) our main problem remains one of social inequity, deprived areas and sink schools with moderate leadership and, I daresay, moderate teaching. If selective and private schools did not exist would we get, on average, higher attainment from our children? Would national sampling of performance, which is what the Finns do, be as useful as our highly detailed, school by school, pupil by pupil analysis?

On the other hand, could one argue that Finnish parents are not getting the same information and freedom as their British and US counterparts? Could their system be even better with a good dose of accountability? It is noteworthy that the French, whose comprehensive system has more in common with Finland's than with our own, are moving towards more assessment of teacher performance and accountability.

Just to add that the assumption that Finland is a high-achieving nation depends on the reliability of the PISA regime. PISA only measures a limited range of attainment types, not including, for example achievement in the arts, design and music. Furthermore, other educational jurisdictions in the far east with quite different approaches which we would not favour out-perform Finland.

I'm sure we can learn from the Finns and I worry that the rush to academies and free schools will do even more to pit school against school and tempt us back to selection. I also suggest that, whatever model you choose for your society, the most important factor remains the quality of leadership and teaching in each establishment. This depends on careful selection of candidates for teacher training, high quality training, good pay and conditions. In this respect, the Finns do well, demanding high academic standards of their teaching force and paying their teachers well.

Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Centre, has a blog with more on this.

http://www.pasisahlberg.com/blog/

Finally, fancy a tour of the Finnish education system?

http://www.businessinsider.com/finland-education-school-2011-12#finnish-children-dont-start-school-until-they-are-7-1

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