Quality education and tools for a good life for everyone

Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg's picture
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I am a Finnish educator with years of teaching experience in Finnish schools. I have also participated in educational development projects in Finland (ICT, support for growth and learning, pastoral care, anti-bullying)
I am currently living in London and continue my work in improving education for all.
The goals of the Local Schools Network are congruent with those of the very well functioning and efficient educational system in Finland.
My professional experience is from an educational system that knows no league tables, it is a system that trusts, but does not test schools.
The Finnish education system provides proof that local schools indeed provide quality education for all. Our system does not allow schools for profit. The 75 so called "private schools" (ex. Steiner, Freinet och Christian schools) are all state funded.
Repeated successes in international comparisons (ex PISA) show that a network of excellent local schools that do not select their students based on academic ability or ability to pay IS the pathway to success for the entire school system and benefits the entire community immensely.
I am available to discuss or run workshops in schools or for local authorities about the Finnish system and the parts that can actually be exported and might benefit schools here.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 14:09

This is great to read. It would be good to draw together the relevant lessons from the Finnish system and think of ways of instituting them into the English one. Perhaps some cross-party consensus can be built around this since politicians on both sides are keen on citing the Finnish system in the defence of their policies when it suits them...

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 14:19

I for one would be very interested to hear directly how the Finnish system can be incorporated into British schools. We hear much from our current politicians about how the Finnish model is incompatible but not nearly enough about exactly why. At the same time, we are told that Britain is adopting the Swedish then the American Charter Schools models because they have proved themselves to be successful, despite reports and research showing they are not nearly as successful as the media and the government make them out to be.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 16:18

It was very heartening to read this especially now when the English education system is being radically changed in a way that will allow profit-making companies to run schools with the risk that money intended for education ends up in shareholders' pockets.

Alan's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 20:24

With less emphasis on school league tables - and I hope bell curves – do you think on site educational psychologists and social pedagogues could make a difference to learning if they were able to monitor progress throughout the period formal education?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 08:08

One impressive aspect of the Finnish system of education is that the country's 15 year-olds manage to achieve the top European score in PISA tests while actually having fewer class contact hours than most other countries. This is because planning is considered such an essential part of effective teaching that teachers spend many non-contact hours using the information they gather through continuous assessment and monitoring to plan lessons and personalise learning.

This is lost on the present Government who praise extended school hours and longer terms as if they were a golden bullet for raising achievement. It is impossible for teachers to maintain a good standard of teaching if they are exhausted. It will deter recruits to the profession and damage retention if teachers do not have a good life/work balance. Yet many academies boast that their staff have "no hours" contracts which requires them to be in school when the management demands it.

Teachers need time for assessment and planning - the Finns recognise this and their education system is all the better for it.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 09:23

Allan. I am interested in your comment about politicians dismissing Finland as incompatible. I thought they were simply ignoring it in favour of often dubious claims about the USA and Sweden. Have you any references for this. I'd love to know the grounds on which they are claiming that Finland is incompatible but Sweden or New Jersey ())or wherever) isn't.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 12:35

Hi Adrian

There are various references but you might like to consider this from the TES http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6086549 who report that although Gove praised the Finnish model, Tim Oates, the man appointed by Gove to chair a panel to advise on schools curriculum, says that it should not be seen as a model for England to follow.

Finland's small size, cultural differences and low poverty rate are often cited as reasons why we cannot adopt or adapt the Finnish model but I'm just not convinced about these arguments, particularly as the government have never really communicated much evidence that they have tried to make the model fit. Our racial diversity has been cited, yet Finland has the same demographics as Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway, yet gets superior results.

Finland is a capitalist country but it is egalitarian and I suspect therein lies the disconnect between why the Conservative led government cannot ultimately embrace the Finnish template. It is not really surprising that they have adopted and championed the US Charter school model, the agenda for which has long been set by wealthy philanthropists and right wing corporations whose billions have afforded them huge influence in American school ideology and in government. The lie of an egalitarian school system, exemplified by the Charter School chains whose mantra is to raise educational standards for the poor, is laid bare when report after report shows that Charter Schools have not closed the achievement gap, as Gove and the New Schools Network have claimed and that there are, not surprisingly, bad charters as well as good charters. The way the government and the New Schools Network have misrepresented the achievements of Charters to justify the Free School policy can be accessed here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/the-new-schools-network-is...

and here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/can-the-new-schools-networ....

You’re right Adrian. The question is – why reject the proven Finnish model and embrace the American one, when the latter has not been successful? It is not enough to say that the UK and the US are similar in that we share ethnic diversity, comparable poverty rates, language, immigration. It is certainly not acceptable for the government to deceive us with the lie of how well charters do in terms of closing achievement gaps between rich and poor. Gove is implementing a failed American system, which has favoured free markets, billionaire influence and social division, improving education for only a tiny minority of American children and rejected the Finnish one, which has demonstrably and conclusively shown that an uncomplicated, egalitarian system puts it consistently near, or at, the top of international educational excellence.

The concept of Trust is fundamental to Finnish society. As more and more stories of the Tories’ duplicity comes to light, undermining Cameron’s fake “Caring Conservative” veneer, and as we add up the obfuscation, lack of transparency, revolving doors culture of Atlantic Bridge member Gove and his coterie of SPADS, trust in the coalition’s ability to deliver an egalitarian agenda from any of its departments has long since evaporated.

Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 12:36

I believe school psychologists and school social workers do make a difference, but the most important is an up-to-date picture of each student, her /his progress and possible difficulties and a student centered reliable and functioning system that offers appropriate support for growth and learning every day and throughout school years.
I know from experience that this works. The school is there for the student, not vice versa.

Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 12:59

I am happy to see so many comments to my post. A few points on the LSN agenda read like direct quotes from the Finnish Board of Education vision statement: "Building national intellectual capital, Reinforcing educational equality and equity, Finland leading the development of learning culture, Thriving learning community, Strengthening teaching personnel’s competence, Enhancing studies and provision of education and training, Leading and influencing through information."
I would like to argue that achieving these goals is possible without a socially and economically divisive school system.
If a few of the members of LSN would like to get together and hear more about the Finnish system and discuss the exportable and scalable aspects of it I will certainly be very happy to share my experience and inside information.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 31/05/2012 - 15:58

Lest we forget, Labour had ample time to introduce a 'Finnish' approach to education and but chose to open the door to private enterprise getting involved in running schools. I do not recall Ed Balls taking the time to use the Finnish approach as a challenge or alternative to the way we do things in the UK.
No challenge to the league tables, no challenge to children starting school too young, no challenge to the private schools and their dubious charitable status.
With the Tories you know what you are getting and they are not interested in a high standard of education for all, Gove is in a party where privilege and entitlement is everything. Forget the words and judge by the actions.
I would like to see a future Labour government be brave and radical - like Thatcher - and deliver a more egalitarian education system and adopt the best of the Finnish system and others like it. There has to be a better way than what we have at the moment.

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