Imagine a country: where there is no OFSTED, where no suits with clipboards invade classrooms; imagine no SATS, where pupils are released from the stress and anxiety of constantly being measured, where children of the same are taught together whether they are special needs or academic high flyers.
Where teaching is so popular and so respected as a profession that only 1 in 10 who apply gets on the teacher training courses, where teachers rarely leave the profession and there is no word in the language for teacher retention, where teachers continue their professional development out of choice not because they are pressured to do so, where they don’t have league tables and schools and teachers work together and don’t compete.
Imagine this country comes top or next to the top in the PISA league tables year after year in Literacy, Maths and Science year after year.
Where is that magic place? I hear you ask yourselves? Does such a country exist and why isn’t it the centre of every debate on the way forward for education?
The place is ………………………………..Finland
And of course the reason that Finland is rarely mentioned in the any of academic debate is because this country has changed its education system dramatically over the last 40 years. They have moved to a model which is focused on:
“Improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing trust before accountability, and handing school and district- level leadership to educational professionals.
Students do not take any standardised tests until the end of high school; tests are drawn up by their own teachers, not by multinational testing companies. The Finnish 9-year comprehensive school is a SATS free zone, where children are encouraged “to know, to create and to sustain natural curiosity.” When the author was asked how Finnish teachers would react if they were told they were going to be judged by the test results, he replied “They would walk out and they would not return until the authorities stopped this crazy idea”
The lack of SATs means that Finnish students experience a lot less anxiety and stress when learning mathematics compared to their peers in other countries. The national PISA report (2007) concluded that only 7% of Finnish students said they feel anxious when working on mathematical tasks at home compared to 52% in Japan and 53% in France. The relaxed culture of learning and lack of stress certainly plays a key toll in achieving good results in all Finnish Schools
As a result Finland has improved the education of all its pupils and narrowed the gap in attainment of all. This is without the use of extra private classes and test preparations, which take place after school at weekends and during the holidays that the many youngsters in Korea, Japan, and China who are also high up on the PISA tables are forced to attend.
Children in Finland do not start their formal education until they are 7 and even older pupils rarely get more than half an hour homework a day.
Secondary School Teachers in Finland teach on average six hundred hours a year, four hours a day, compared to over 700 in England and over 1000 in USA schools. The rest of the Finnish teachers plan, learn and reflect on their teaching with other teachers.
Finnish education system is based on equality and cooperation, not choice and competition, performance management, payment by results and privatisation has no place in their schools.
High equality education in Finland is not just the result of education factors alone. The Finnish welfare state plays a crucial role in providing children and their families with equitable conditions for every child when they start their formal education at seven there is free voluntary pre-school which is attended by 98% of children, a comprehensive health services free, healthy, school meals for all school students no matter their income. Child poverty is less than 4% compared with over 20% in USA and over 16% in UK.
Finland stands outside of “Global Education Reform Movement” or “GERM”. GERM is a virus that has affected not only the United States, UK, Australia and many other measures. Which promotes standardised testing as the most reliable measure for success of pupils, teachers and schools,
And after reading this no one will be surprised to hear Higher education is free of charge for all students and currently over 60% of upper secondary schools graduates enrol in higher education courses.
Let’s not all go and work in Finland but fight to make our system more like the Finnish one.
This article is taken from the current issue of Education for Liberation the journal of the STA (Socialist Teachers’ Alliance). For a copy £2 (free postage) contact: firstname.lastname@example.org