What we can learn from Finland

What the UK education system can learn from Finland

Finland has one of the most successful education systems on the Earth but what makes it so successful?

In recent years, much has been made of the Finnish education model. From newspaper comment pieces to political podcasts, people across the globe have been investigating just what makes the Finnish education model one of the best in the world.

Finland might be a country of just of just under 5.5 million, and a per-pupil budget that falls below the UK and the US. But it also happens to produce the smartest, most well-rounded students. Part of the reason for this, and perhaps the key reason, is that it chooses to ignore these statistics, and focus on the promotion of teaching autonomy, creative learning, and equal ability classes.

But before delving into the specifics, it’s worth considering the statistics that have turned the heads of teaching professionals across the globe. In Finland, 66% of pupils attend university. The difference between the strongest and the weakest students is the smallest on earth. 93% of students graduate from secondary education. This is evidently an education system that works.

What’s so different about the Finnish model?

1. There are no standardised tests

From the age of six, students in the UK are tested to assess their academic capabilities. But in Finland, throughout the course of a child’s education, there is only one test that is mandatory -- the matriculation exam -- which comes at the end of vocational senior high school.

Some may say that without the tests we have in the UK, it would be impossible to assess students’ progress. But Finland’s education system, when assessing the statistics of student success, is superior to the one we have in the UK. With this system, teachers are trusted to do what they do best -- teach -- without the pressure of league tables or Ofsted inspections.

One reason why it is so effective is that there is a lack of competition that runs throughout a child’s schooling. With the system we have in the UK, it is easy for children who underachieve early in life to be written off and placed in lower sets, which in turn discriminates against their chances. Not everyone develops at the same rate, after all. In Finland, all schools are created equally.

2. Teachers have to be highly qualified

In the UK, there are many routes to becoming a teacher. With teaching shortages, this seems like a logical way to increase the chances of getting more qualified teachers into schools. But could it impact the quality of education students get? In Finland, they take a very different approach.

Teachers in Finland are selected from the highest achieving graduates. The top 10 per cent are drafted in to teach their children and are required to take a masters degree before they are allowed to step foot in the classroom. Obviously, Finland is a much smaller country than the UK, so you could argue that it allows it to be more selective. There is, however, another reason why Finland can choose to be so picky about the teachers it places in the classroom.

For starters, teachers in Finland have more respect within their society. As they have to go through the same length of training as doctors and lawyers, they are granted equal status. Salaries are also relatively higher than in the UK, making it a much more attractive proposition to high achievers. Whilst we don’t doubt the integrity and ability of teachers in the UK, Finland’s model could help us get better teachers into UK classrooms.

3. Teachers have more freedom in the classroom

One of the biggest gripes for teachers in the UK is the restrictions that are placed on them teaching a structured curriculum. Whilst in Finland, there is also a national curriculum, there are no set texts, nor exams to teach towards. Nor do lesson plans have to be so regimented. Teachers are given complete freedom as to how they teach what is on the curriculum. Both in terms of method, and direction.

Another aspect of teaching in Finland is the cooperation between teachers. Collaboration is encouraged, and teachers regularly share their experiences and expertise, not only in terms of subject content but also in terms of experimental teaching styles.

This is another way in which Finland leads the world. Because teachers come from such a strong academic background, where pedagogical thinking is encouraged, teaching is backed by the latest academic, psychological, and sociological research. And because Finland’s education system is non-political, there is nothing stopping a school, or a group of teachers implementing the latest experimental techniques in their classrooms.

4. Homework isn’t as widely used

Statistically, Finland issues a lot less homework to students than most countries on earth. Though it is a myth that there is no homework at all, most of the education happens in the classroom. Which is, after all, where you would expect it to happen.

This is built on a mutual trust between teachers, students and parents. Parents especially know that their kids are being taught by the brightest people in society. So they back whatever happens when their children are in the school environment. In Finland, home time is there to develop soft skills, gain life experience and foster close family bonds.

5. Kids don’t start school until they’re 7

In the UK, kids start school at 5 years old. In Finland, they take a very different approach. Although preschool is free for everyone in Finland -- with 97% of kids attending -- actual schooling doesn’t take place until the age of 7.

Why is this so important? Because in Finland, early years are focused on play, rather than academic learning. At the age of five, our bodies don’t have the required motor functions to properly handle a pen, and other stationary. So it makes sense to let children learn through natural play. Whilst also helping to form social skills through interaction through play with other children.

This focus on play doesn’t stop at the age of seven either. In no way are Finland’s classrooms reminiscent of Victorian boarding schools. Play is encouraged all the way through schooling. This is, after all, where the bulk of our creativity develops.

Should the Finland model be implemented in the UK now?

Whilst it clear that Finland has an education model that the world should study, just how viable is it for the UK to adopt a similar model? This isn’t something that could happen overnight. Private schools are illegal in Finland, for example. There is very little chance of that happening in the UK.

There are also question marks about the scalability. The UK has a far bigger population than in Finland. We also have a more diverse society, with more languages. There is also a lack of teachers. So making teachers sit masters degrees might not be the wisest thing to do right now.

But one thing's for certain, the Finland model works. Perhaps with more investigation and some localised trials, we could learn and implement certain aspects of the Finnish model into our education system in the UK.

If you are looking for a new teaching role for September, get in touch with Celsian Education today to speak to one of our teaching recruitment experts or browse our teaching jobs by region.

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