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A blog to Finnish the week

Lessons (or not?) from Finland

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SSAT writes…

At the turn of the millennium, – the same time at which a UK government teacher campaign saw beer mats in English pubs appealing “Those who can, teach”, the inaugural PISA report (PISA 2000) placed Finland fourth best in the world for mathematical literacy; third best for science literacy; and first for reading literacy.

After 30 years of education reforms that prioritised equal opportunities and the increasing of equity in education, Finland rose to the top of the pile.

Pasi Sahlberg argued this in his recent guest blog for SSAT – that the Finnish system owes its success to a philosophy that school education should be seen as a part of the overall function of democratic civil society’. For education to succeed, the entire society must perform well.

Given that the success of Finland’s system is founded on the very society it serves, does this mean that other countries cannot learn from it?

Some commentators are sceptical of looking at a system which serves a society so different from our own. Given that the success of Finland’s system is founded on the very society it serves, does this mean that other countries cannot learn from it?

Pasi does not believe that this is the case, and in his keynote at the SSAT National Conference, will aim to demonstrate what we can learn from global education reform, drawing on lessons from Finland and other high-performing systems. ‘There are lessons that the UK can learn from Finland’ he insists: ‘a systemic focus on enhancing equity, and more intelligent accountability and assessment policies for schools’.

Close interplay between education and other sectors, particularly health, social and youth sectors… Furthermore, complimentary school lunches, comprehensive welfare services, and early childhood education and care for all children are also important.

In England, adopting these strategies would be less dependent on social values, than on government policy.

And who’s to say that we want to emulate the Finnish approach? There is proof that the English system can give students an advantage over their Finnish counterparts

Leading a recent study visit to Finland, SSAT Head of Teaching and Learning, Anne-Marie Duguid noted ‘the last major changes to Finnish education targets were in 2008’ – you would need both hands to count the amount of alterations to the British system during this period. Surely this means that, in 2014, what works in Helsinki, will never work in Hull?

And who’s to say that we want to emulate the Finnish approach? There is proof that the English system can give students an advantage over their Finnish counterparts.

Anne-Marie highlights that ‘[UK] maths students’ problem-solving skills are significantly more developed than students in Finland’ Our students are also among the happiest in the world, along with those in China.

Our students are also among the happiest in the world, along with those in China

So this visit raised doubts over the total effectiveness of Finnish strategies. There are also serious concerns that PISA’s system of assessment is flawed.

In 2012, the sample of year 11 students in England who participated in PISA tests amounted to 0.7% of the entire population of students from this year group in the entire country.

If we assume that a similar sample size was used in Finland, are PISA results as important as some commentators – notably governments – seem to believe them to be?

It must also be remembered that no education system is the same, something not accounted for by PISA

It must also be remembered that no education system is the same, something not accounted for by PISA. As Anne-Marie points out, PISA’s report clearly states that ‘the PISA survey is only able to explain the reasons for differences between countries to a limited extent’ This is because ‘differences in school systems and educational experiences in different countries could play a part’.

It is easy sometimes to despair of what can feel like constant meddling in education, bred of the political cycle and short termism at a policy level.

It could be just as easy to assume that Finland, or any other country with a high-performing system, has all the answers. But the debate is much more nuanced than that.

School leaders have an opportunity to shape their own vision for schooling in England. To do this, we need to work together as well as looking beyond our own country.

It took Finland over 20 years to build a common understanding among teacher educators, university professors and practitioners about the complexity of the teaching profession

Pasi Sahlberg will tell us at the National Conference how it took Finland over 20 years to build a common understanding among teacher educators, university professors and practitioners about the complexity of the teaching profession.

For SSAT, achieving a similar common understanding is a critical goal for England: our young people need the best teachers – especially young people in areas of deprivation – and it must not be a lottery as to whether or not they get them.

So is Finland’s approach to tackling these big and difficult issues the one we should emulate? Is it simply wrong to adopt short term fixes, or to rely on a small percentage of outstanding teachers or school leaders?

It is easy sometimes to despair of what can feel like constant meddling in education, bred of the political cycle and short-termism at a policy level

What is the path that England should take to strengthen the teaching profession and ensure there are brilliant teachers in every classroom?

Join us for our National Conference, 4-5 December in Manchester – it’s your opportunity to get involved in this crucial debate

SSAT National Conference 2014

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19 November 2014

The student media team look forward to SSAT National Conference 2014

27 November 2014

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