In reading tests carried out by the OECD in 2009, 18% of students tested in the UK failed to reach a Level 2, suggesting that they "lack the essential skills needed to participate effectively and productively in society". This is obviously a disaster economically and is socially unjust too, as socioeconomic background had a significant effect on test results, meaning a disproportionate number of those failing to meet this basic standard are from the poorest homes (14% of the variance in reading scores could be explained by SE background; the same as the OECD average).
In Finland by contrast, less than 10% of the students tested failed to reach a Level 2, and the effect of background was also smaller with only 8% of the variance being explained by background. So not only is Finland a top performer in all three subjects tested in PISA, they manage to do so while making schooling equitable. How they manage this was a question on my mind throughout my three weeks in Finnish schools. I asked, I watched and I listened, and I humbly suggest that the following factors contribute to this success.
Imagine an England with no external exams, no teacher observations, and no school inspection. Shut your eyes and think about it. Would the students be motivated to do any studying at all? Would the teachers put any effort into their lessons? Would the schools that need improving bother to make the necessary changes?
I explained in my last blog that Finland has few of these external accountability measures; a culture of trust runs throughout the system, and it works. But there are a number of other differences between the Finnish system and the English system which we mustn't overlook. There are other features of the Finnish system that make this trust viable, and make it more likely that students, teachers and schools remain motivated despite an absence of extrinsic motivation.
It is widely reported that teaching in Finland is highly selective, with only one person being accepted onto teacher training programmes for every ten applicants. This fact is often followed by the adage that this is because teaching is considered to be a highly prestigious profession in Finland, and it is implied that there's not much we in the UK can do to make teaching as desirable unless we undergo a seismic cultural shift. However, new research by the Varkey Gems foundation released last week suggests that teachers in the UK actually have a higher status compared to other professions than they do in Finland. So why are we at risk of a shortage of teacher applicants this year, while teaching continues to be competitive in Finland?
Lucy Crehan - a teacher and education explorer.