A reminder - How Finnish Education reform addressed the economic inequality of society

Allan Beavis's picture
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Finnish schools and why they are an inspiring model to emulate has been discussed on Local Schools Network many times before, but it is worth thinking about them again.

Posts on this site about the recent speeches and "initiaves" by Gove and Clegg claiming to prove the coalition's commitment to social mobility and cohesion have prompted debate once again about the amazing results of Finnish schools. The fact is, their superior system was possible because the economic inequality in Finland was virtually done away with. Arguments that the Finnish model is contained and cannot be adopted and adapted in America or England focus on the fact that Finland is a small country, that immigration is low, there is little poverty and ethnic diversity and teachers overqualified and overtrained.

Supporters of Gove-ian ideology of discipline, segregation, selection, teaching to the test and punitive measures ignore the fact that Finland's schools success is intertwined with social cohesion and equality. These are not qualities that spring to mind when one looks at the impact of the coalition's policies in this country.

For anyone who doubts that Finland has closed the income gap between rich and poor and that the Finnish school policy can be scaled up, adapted and emulated, read this excellent article in THE ATLANTIC. It concludes that:

"It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important -- as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform -- Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad."

For America, read the UK.

THE ATLANTIC: What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success
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Comments

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 06:40

Allan there are half a million people in Helsinki and only 5.3 million in Finland all together.
Finland is more than 2.5 times the size of England, which has over 10 times the population.

So we are looking at a population density in England which is well over 20 times that in Finland.

Helsinki has about 600k people.

Do these statistics not strike you as being relevant here?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 07:41

What does the relative population size got to do with a political and cultural will to eradicate poverty and increase equality? The point is successive governments here have failed to tackle it. The present coalition have increased child poverty and widened the income gap to levels not seen in decades.

It is a question of will. There is the will to import the charter model into the UK, despite it being an expensive failed model and there is the will for the government to protect the priveleges of the wealthy whilst pulling the lifeline away from the poor. It is easy to hold up Finland's small population but far more difficult to argue that they succeeded simply because they were absolutely committeed to social equality.

Guest's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 08:08

This whole Finnish discussion is like a BNP propaganda piece. Do we really want to emulate this. Where would you start? Very naive.

Square hole and a round peg.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 10:54

I'm interested in how will can generate benefits in reality Allan. Therefore you have to look at reality. You can't just say - if we push harder for social equality we would be like Finland. People have pushed hard for social equality at different time in the UK and we need to look at why we have failed to achieve it.

We were doing pretty well at moving in the direction of the Finnish model in Cumbria 30 years ago. Why did that change? Can the reasons why it changed be addressed without the need to shut down all the private schools, the christian schools and so on? What are your opinions on these questions?

It's a shame Finland don't do TIMSS so we can better understand their reality.

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 08:32

One way societies remain homogenous is by making immigration difficult and unattractive. For example, Finland denies citizenship to people born in the country of non-Finnish parents, unless they are unable to obtain any other citizenship. Contrast this with British citizenship laws. Finland’s policy is much closer to the “white Australia” of the past.
By any European standard, Finland has fantastically low levels of immigration, and the vast majority is ethnically and culturally similar (the main groups being Estonian, Russian and Swedish). There are 7500 Somalis in Finland, 3700 Indians, 5500 Iraqis, 3500 Turks and 11000 from China and Thailand (2011 figures). Assuming they all live in Helsinki, which is broad-brush the case, they represent less than 3% of the population of Helsinki. Because Finland makes obtaining citizenship very, very difficult, these are reasonable proxies for the sizes of the non-native communities. Even if you add in the people from over the border in Estonia, Russia and Sweden, and assume all the “other” groups are likely to be long-distance economic migrants and assume all the non-Finns live in Helsinki, you still only have 16% of the population (about 3.5% of the national population)/
British education is most discussed in terms of London and other large cities: no-one’s getting overly worked up about rural towns with one school everyone goes to. It may be that having massively lower levels of immigration is irrelevant to education, and it’s all about income. But income inequality is associated with racial inequality, so simply denying entry to poor immigrants will of itself reduce levels of overall poverty. And for education, unless it’s going to be seriously argued that schools with very high levels of children who do not speak the local language fluently do not face additional challenges, it’s a major issue.
To make Britain look as homogenous as Finland, we would have to reduce the levels of people whose origin is not Britain by somewhere between a factor of three and a factor of five, depending on how you read the numbers and how much you think Estonia differs from Finland. That would be an appalling concept: leaving aside the practical and ethical issues, a lot of us _want_ to live in a vibrant, multi-cultural country that is welcoming to new people. Alternatively, we could close the borders completely: Finland has MPs who want to do just that.

Now all this may be by-the-by. Maybe the greater racial and cultural diversity of Britain doesn’t affect its education system at all (and, to be clear, I would see that as a reason to improve education, not to “fix” diversity). But then, it might be that it’s just as big a problem as income stratification. We just don’t know. But pointing to another country, identifying one way in which it differs from Britain, and claiming that that’s the root of other differences, hardly seems well founded. Especially when the elephant in the room is the massively different demographics.

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 12:00

"Finland is in the EC so, like the UK, they open their borders to other EC citizens"

The figures I quoted included EU migration and non-EU migration. Not many EU citizens go there (well, they do now, because Estonia is in the EU, but they always did before Estonia, and indeed Finland, acceded). EU citizens do, of course, have right of abode; their children still do not obtain Finnish citizenship.

"Would you like to substantiate [the link between race and poverty], by linking it to to poverty stats in the UK?"

Yes, since you ask. http://www.poverty.org.uk/06/index.shtml?2

The proportion of people who live in low-income households is:

20% for White people.
30% for Indians and Black Caribbeans.
50% for Black Africans.
60% for Pakistanis.
70% for Bangladeshis.

"You also state that denying entry to poor immigrants will of itself reduce overall levels of poverty but surely the point is so many British children are born into poverty, grow up in poverty and bring up their own children in poverty."

Those are two different points. We have had extensive immigration -- which, again to be clear, I regard as an overall good thing --- from groups with historically low educational attainment. We also have indigenous populations that are disconnected from education, largely because it suited capital's purposes to have a large reservoir of manual labour kept "in its place". The reasons for their educational problems are different.

"Those who argue that Finland cannot serve as a model because it lacks racial diversity fall silent when one points out that Finland has the same demographics as Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway, "

Norway has 13% of the population either born abroad or born to parents born abroad (Norway grants citizenship to these children). (source:Norwegian government statistics). Denmark has 9.8% of the population ditto (source: Danish government statistics). Sweden is 14.3% foreign-born (ie _not_ including their descendants) according to Eurostat: presumably some of them have had children, so the "plus children" figure will be higher. Switzerland has over 20% people born outside Switzerland; again, presumably some of them have children. So the counties you cite have rates of immigration between 2.5 and 5 times higher than Finland, whose rate is around 4%. In what way are Switzerland, with 20% immigration, and Finland, at 4%, comparable?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:30

You boldly state that "income equality is associated with racial inequality" and add that "simply denying entry to poor immigrants will of itself reduce levels of overall poverty." Would you like to substantiate that, by linking it to poverty stats in the UK? How many of those classified as living in poverty are British and how many are immigrants? How many of those that are now tipping into poverty as a result of the austerity/no growth budget are British and how mant are immigrants? You also state that denying entry to poor immigrants will of itself reduce overall levels of poverty but surely the point is so many British children are born into poverty, grow up in poverty and bring up their own children in poverty.

Finland is in the EC so, like the UK, they open their borders to other EC citizens so migration into Finland is not as strict as you suggest.

Those who argue that Finland cannot serve as a model because it lacks racial diversity fall silent when one points out that Finland has the same demographics as Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway, yet gets superior results. I don't buy this "homogenous" argument because it implies that other ethnicities, races or nationalities cannot benefit by having a decent standard of living, highly experienced teachers, small classes, and a curriculum rich in the arts and activities.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 17:58

Thank you for your poverty statistics but you have chosen to focus on a small laundry list of ethnicities. I had asked, and was hoping that you would be able to show, how many of these ethnicities are born British and which are actually immigrants. You have conflated ethnic minorities with poor immigrants giving the impression that the influx of impoverished ethnic minorities into the country has inflated the figures for low attainment.

The reasons why childhood poverty severely decreases a student’s chances of attaining at school have been well researched but however complex the reasons – whether via “extensive immigration from groups with historically low educational attainment” or “indigenous populations that are disconnected from education” – the fact remains that it is poverty which will disadvantage many of them from attaining from primary school onwards. It doesn’t matter whether they are immigrant poor or indigenous poor. What does matter is that governments have the genuine will to create a more equal society and that extends to equal opportunities, resources and care within the welfare system and in schools.

And this is precisely what Finland has achieved. According to a number of Finnish educators that I have spoken to, most “immigrants” of whichever ethnicity or socio-economic group arrive in Finland not speaking a word of Finnish yet the majority of them are given dedicated and focused attention by teachers and within 6-9 months their Finnish is of a standard that they have linguistically caught up with the other Finns in their class. At that point, they are as advantaged in terms of what the school has to offer as native Finns.

Equality in Finland means that a school will put more resources into helping a struggling student – both non-Finn and native Finn – to improve. When I spoke to two Finnish teachers just now, both expressed amazement that a teacher or anyone in the school’s community would view an “immigrant” student or an indigenous student with special needs as a challenge or a “problem” to be tackled. They added that, although still low compared to the UK, immigration was growing very fast in Finland but the vast majorirt of Finns did not see this a problem because their economy, education system, social services and cultural outlook is secure.

Contrast that attitude with the prevailing one which your argument supports. Ethnic minorities are a problem. Immigrants are a problem. Both Home grown and Imported poor are a problem. There are fewer greater ways of tearing apart social cohesion than by beating the poor around the head with the truncheon that they are a burden to society and contribute little of worth. In Finland, the capitalist economy would rather have a high number of high skilled people in the workforce and their governments have done something to sustain this and they raise self esteem as well as attainment in their schools. For everyone, no matter where they came from.

What is so bleak and depressing about your chilling discourse is that it gives politicians every reason in the book not to tackle inequality and this suits the minority who rule and dominate in this country because it absolutely protects their interests. In the meantime, this inertia leads to greater social inequality, a greater burden on the state coffers and civil discontent. Instead of finding more and more barriers in statistics and demographics to discourage social cohesion, what we should be doing is challenging the system and structures which impede equality and deny many young people a more equitable chance of succeeding and this is why we should look to Finland as a model of inspiraton rather than picking it apart to throw up and magnify any fact or stat or opinion to cast doubt, or disprove, what Finland has so far achieved for its citizens both in and out of school.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 07:09

Alternative perspectives aid balance:

“If we didn’t have the Pisa results when we did, parents would have made the politicians change things because they were so sure their children weren’t getting the best education possible,” he adds.......

To the east of the capital, Vesala Comprehensive, another upper-stage school, serves one of Helsinki’s more deprived communities, and has felt these ructions......The school caters for 25 nationalities and its pupils speak 30 languages. Over 70 per cent of its students come from single-parent families.

Due to its disadvantaged intake, the school receives more state funding than its peers, but because of the higher numbers of migrant children principal, Juha Juvonen says Finnish parents are choosing to send their children to schools elsewhere in the capital.....

Niina Halonen-Malliarakis, a special educational needs teacher at the school, adds: “People have been making a lot of fuss over this; parents hope to send their kids to a school where they will make friends with kids who are from better backgrounds.....

“It is happening more and more when it didn’t used to happen at all. Now you will hear parents say that a certain area has a ‘nice school’.”


“It’s very different from England,” she says. “In Finland there is less of a barrier between teacher and student. Here they stand very close to you, not in a threatening way, but because teachers are seen as being more equal to them, which you would not see in England.”

After three years, the students take another matriculation exam. Nowadays, the results are published, a move that has gone down badly among teachers........


According to Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Co-operation, which promotes Finland’s education success to the wider world, its achievement cannot be ascribed to an individual factor.

However, he believes its students’ successes later in life can be attributed to early learning.

“There is no single reason we are doing so well,” Mr Sahlberg says. “It is very complex.

Finnish society and culture is all about the work ethic and the trust.

It was relatively straightforward to reach political consensus, partly because the country consistently elects coalition governments.'

But which came first, homogeneity/equity or excellence in education?

'Compared with many countries, Finland was quite homogeneous. There were few foreigners, and the ones who were present were usually white-collar employees required for commercial reasons. Very few persons of other races were seen on the nation's streets, and only a handful of refugees were granted asylum. Finns were open about their desire to avoid admitting workers from distant southern countries and hence to avoid the kinds of situations that had led to minor racial incidents in neighboring Sweden and Denmark, let alone those that had caused the serious social problems experienced by Britain.'

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 07:58

Tim - your reply contains several quotes but none are linked to source. Your first quote contains "we" - but who are "we", and who is the "he" who is making the comment. The quotes are unconnected. First there's a comment about the problems faced by a Finnish school in a deprived community. This is followed by how the situation is different in England but the speaker isn't referring to disadvantage - she is talking about the relationship between teachers and taught. Then we have an unattributed bit about publication of matriculation results. This is followed by the Sahlberg quote saying quite rightly that the reasons behind educational success are complex. Your post ends with a quote about Finland's homogeneous society.

Your final quote (unattributed) seems to suggest that "the serious social problems experienced by Britain" have been solely caused by immigration. This is a rather sweeping, and unfair, generalisation.

I'm afraid the post appeared to be just a jumble of cut-and-pasted, unconnected quotes from we-know-not-where. There is no coherent argument or reasoned conclusion.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:08

I give, above, a selection of alternative viewpoints, made by Finns and others, that add to the brief and rather narrow post.

They are for there, in a spirit of selflessness, to help you to make up your own mind, not to evidence any argument of mine.

I am, as you know, simply an uninformed outsider, looking on at this website with bemused amazement.

Regarding references, may I refer you to the author of the above post on his previous comments thread below 'Michael Gove claims that etc. etc......'

'The evidence, Tim, is in the public domain, easily accessible and universally acknowleged. You might like to google......'

'I am surprised you have absorbed so little about..... the Finnish culture of equality that you feel it necessary to plead for evidence.'

Happy hunting.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:10

Yes, the post is brief but its an invitation to read the Atlantic article. Why don't you?

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:32

"Yet Sahlberg doesn't think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country -- as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn't lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period."

It's be really interesting to get behind that paragraph. Because if Finland really does have schools with high levels of immigrant students who are achieving as well as the long-term residents, that's a news story with a direct read-across into England.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 10:05

I refer you to Janet's comment of 24 April, under the post 'Centralisation of education funding is inconsistent......'

'Tim.....Thanks for the link to the Atlantic article'

and referenced by me again, 27 April, under your own post

'Jamie Oliver criticises Gove for.......'

Why not read some of the comments under your posts? There's some good stuff there.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 11:06

You really must try and calm down.

Intemperate responses only add to the impression of feebleness deployed in debate.

Tim Bidie's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 12:13

You'd do better to stick to your post as a subject.

It may be narrow but at least its not full of petty, party political, schoolyard jibes.

Let's leave that to our unutterable politicians (of all hues) and try and be a bit more grown up, shall we?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 10:17

There are some excellent comments under my posts, yes - but your links to the Atlantic article (one repeated three times under the Jamie Oliver post as if it were of staggering originality not to be missed) is yet another of your random cut and paste jobs to illustrate something you are trying to state which bears little relevance to, and adds little, to the points made in the original post.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 11:30

"calm down dear" didn't really work as a debating strategy for Cameron did it? All it showed was how was rattled and lacking control he was. It also came back to bite him very hard - out of touch "posh boys" - and Nadine really hit the nail on the head at a time when Cameron and his chums were pretending to believe in social justice to hang onto their local election seats.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:02

The key to Finland's success is the slow, deliberate pace of reform which took place over decades. It was based on the belief that all children should receive a good education and not be disadvantaged by circumstances. The reforms were based on consensus and not by high-profile initiatives by particular governments or individual politicians.

"Finland: Slow and Steady Reform" is available here:

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/44/46581035.pdf

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:27

That paper mentions cultural homogeneity at several points, but dismisses it in a paragraph at each point. It vaguely mentions "some international observers" (p.118) but neither quotes nor cites them before dismissing them: they're so wrong, we don't need to know what they said. But by p.124 we have "Finnish society is also characterised by a degree of social cohesion and trust in government that is partly a function of size and relative cultural homogeneity, but which also reflects the national temperament", as a reason for teaching being a popular profession, which is odd, if cultural cohesion isn't an issue. And national temperament? That's the stuff of blood and soil nationalism, not academic discourse. What is Finland's "national temperament"? Do immigrants have it? If Finland has a "national temperament", does Britain? Where can I find out about it? Or is possession of a singular "national temperament" (if, indeed, that is the case) just a sign of cultural homogeneity?

Finland's got about the population of Scotland, with a similar concentration in the south, and similar levels of immigration. Scotland's got a much more unified education system than England, and is willing to fund it. It also has a hell of a lot more blood and soil nationalism than England, to the point that it's politically respectable. It has, roughly, British levels of income distribution, and a lot of poverty, and yet the education system works better. Ditto Norway and Sweden.

England's got a population of ~55m and high (and continuing) levels of immigration. It's simply not possible to turn it into a country of 5m with <4% immigration in a generation, or even in ten generations. So unless you can exclude --- by more than hand-waving --- size and cultural homogeneity from the reason why two countries differ in other ways, it's hard to see how much you can learn from them.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 09:45

You can learn from them but the knowledge is impotent if those in power and can something about it - ie governments - don't have the will to tackle it. What is so bleakly depressing about your clinical discourse is that it gives politicians every reason in the book not to tackle inequality and this suits the minority who rule and dominate in this country because it absolutely protects their interests. In the meantime, this inertia leads to greater social inequality, a great burden on the state coffers and civil discontent. Instead of finding more and more barriers in statistics and demographics to discourage social cohesion, what we should be doing is challenging the system and structures which impede equality and deny many young people a more equitable chance of succeeding.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 11:36

eJD8owE1 - it does not follow that "national temperament" is the same as "blood and soil nationalism." Although it the OECD document doesn't define Finnish national temperament, it does mention qualities like putting a high value on education and putting trust in teachers - so much so that teaching is a much sought-after profession attracting the highest level of graduate.

I am not sure that "blood and soil nationalism" accurately describes Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party. The phrase you have chosen to use has more in common with far-right politics than the SNP's call for Scottish independence. "Blood and soil nationalism" leads to hatred and persecution.

There is much to be learnt from Finland - its slow and consistent pace of reform unhampered by shrill, point-scoring politicians and a biased media; its trust in the teaching profession and the high value it places on education, not just as a means of getting pupils to pass tests but as a way of providing them with skills they will need throughout their lives.

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 12:20

"There is much to be learnt from Finland – its slow and consistent pace of reform unhampered by shrill, point-scoring politicians and a biased media;"

Well, I might not think much to the third largest party in the UK parliament, but they are rather preferable to the third largest party in Finland, the "True Finns". 19% of the votes and therefore of the seats. Look them up. "Shrill [and] point-scoring"? I rather think so.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 15:32

eJD9owE1 - the True Finns are a relatively modern phenomenon. In the 2007 election they had only polled 4%. The True Finns, therefore, had no input in the development of the Finnish education system which was built on a consensus shared by the political parties at the time - ie a commitment to a fully-comprehensive system.

Compare that slow and careful consensus building with the political rhetoric and interference surround UK education in the last 25 years. This has built up to a crescendo of negative comment which has resulted in teacher morale hitting rock bottom.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13107620

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 12:42

Perhaps Finland doesn't have a high quality education system because it focuses on equality. Perhaps it has a high quality education system because it understands that children need time to develop and should spend that time working on connected and embedded tasks. If this was the case then all innovations which focused too much on the assumption that education is only good if children make rapid progress against narrow targets would be rejected.

If this were the case it would not be necessary or appropriate to shut all the private and selective schools to improve English education.

eJD8owE1's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 14:26

"If this were the case it would not be necessary or appropriate to shut all the private and selective schools to improve English education."

Education policy has to be implementable, so policies which are impossible aren't worth discussing. It isn't possible to "shut all private schools" because any legislation framed to do so would need to make it illegal for parents or other groups to rent a building, employ teachers and instruct children, which takes home education groups, Sunday schools and their equivalent, ballet and music groups and probably the Brownies illegal. It isn't impossible to pass legislation forcing people to attend state schools but few countries have done it and it's pretty ugly stuff (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/feb/24/schools.uk), and would be politically completely impossible. So rather than concocting schemes that focus on forcing people to stop doing things you do like, schemes that encourage people to do things you do like have far more chance of success.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 14:43

"So rather than concocting schemes that focus on forcing people to stop doing things you do like, schemes that encourage people to do things you do like have far more chance of success."

That's what I'm doing. I'm looking at how we can reform our assessment system for students up to the age of 14 to make it far better in many ways while still retaining (and in fact improving the quality of) full professional accountability.

My blog on this starts here:
http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/assessing-student...
and I would very much welcome comments on this topic on the blog.

I'm also still banging on about the need to get Ofsted in line with the law and best practice which governs inspection and regulation in the UK because this would greatly improve the quality of what they do and reduce many of its ill effects.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 16/05/2012 - 18:19

Janet -

The True Finns may be a force that challenges Finland but the assumption by some here is that Finland will now be cast under a dark cloud and it's commitment to equality will be challenged if not compromised. It seems to me that social justice is so embedded in Finnish culture - whether applied to issues of immigration or not - that the chances are they will navigate around these new waters with greater care and understanding than some navel gazing pessimists give them credit for.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 08:26

In the early 1990s Finland's economy came near to collapse. Unemployment soared to 20% and the country's leading banks required massive bailouts from the Finnish taxpayer.

It was acknowledged by Finland's politicians that what had led to the disaster was an unsustainable level of borrow+spend in the public sector.

Huge cuts were made. The economy was rebalanced and brought back on track. Finns went through a period of what we would now call 'austerity'.

It worked.

The improved services we see today are the fruits of a process very like what Britain is belatedly having to face up to today.

I never thought to see it - but Allan Beavis is pointing approvingly at a poster boy for Osborne economics!

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 08:30

No Ricky, in the early 1990s Finland was doing what we did in the 1980s.

The economic situation now is different because the forces which are driving depression are mainly external rather than internal.

I hope George Osborne understands this better than you do. John Redwood certainly does.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 08:51

What has any of this got to do with Finland's culture of equality and universally good schools? In any case it was the financial services industry, still protected by Osborne, who collapsed the economy and who are still untouched by millionaire Gideon's austerity policy. "We're all in together"? Yes but Cameron's chums are in it to feed off the starving.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 08:46

The economic situation now is different because the forces which are driving depression are mainly external rather than internal.

You are conflating two different things.

The limiting factors on recovery and growth are indeed external - Eurozone chaos, oil price etc.

But the deficit (which began in 2002, in the middle of a boom) is not the result of external factors. Brown/Balls could and should have balanced the budget and even paid down accumulated debt between 2002 and 2008. If they had done so, Britain would have been much better placed to cope with the banking meltdown.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 08:57

Ricky if you want to explore your insights into economics I suggest you come and do so on John Redwood's blog. I think this topic is irrelevant here. Finland went through economic restructuring in the early 90s just like most of the rest of the developed nations. This doesn't reveal any significant insight into Finnish education.

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 09:45

There is, of course, a well researched and completely contrary view to this post.

Cultural and societal factors, rather than specific educational reforms, lead to high educational outcomes against certain specific test matrices and always have done:

'Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments.

Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries....

Finnish students scored very well in 1964, “decades before many of
the policies targeting professionalism, equity, decentralization, and de-streaming were adopted,” the report notes.

Cultural and societal factors “may be the real drivers of success.”

Shanghai’s success on PISA proves nothing about Chinese students, researchers argue.

For centuries, Shanghai has been the jewel of Chinese schooling, far ahead of its urban peers and light-years ahead of rural schools.

Shanghai’s municipal website reports that 83.8 percent of high school graduates enter college; the national figure is 24.0 percent.'

http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/02/07-education-loveless

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 10:23

Tim - I'm confused about your quotes. The way you have presented them implies the quotation is continuous (except where ... denotes an omission). Yet there is nothing about Finland's 1964 score on your linked page.

In any case, PISA tests did not take place until 2000. It's unclear, then, what tests are being discussed.

Nevertheless, the comment (the part which you quoted correctly) shows that "Finland has a superb school system." That was the point Allan was making. Thank you for confirming it.

http://www.pisa.oecd.org/document/53/0,3746,en_32252351_32235731_3826290...

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 10:43

Finnish students may well have scored "very well" in 1964 but did that put them at the top, or near the top, of international rankings? The fact is that, since the mid 1970s when social and educational reform were implemented in Finland, their progress up has been remarkable and consistent.

Of course cultural and societal factors are the real drivers of success in Finland. Without having laid the foundations and building upon them to create an equal society, with equality central to Finnish schools' ethos, it is likely that no amount of decentralisation and de-streaming would have worked to improve attainment. This is the whole point of my original post and for attaching the Atlantic article. It is Finland's commitment to social cohesion that created the equity framework allowing all children equal access to uniformly excellent scools.

Abolishing private schools was just one decision to break down the barriers of social cohesion and to open up the possibility for excellent education for all children. Pasi Sahlberg said at the talk on Thursday that passing legislation to close down private schools was difficult and protracted but they did it and the country's current education system was allowed to flourish into the excellent model that it is today. The difference between Finland the England is that the Finns had the political will to make radical change. Gove makes statements about the existence of private schools damaging social mobility but he does nothing about it because its actually nothing more than a soundbite to make his increasingly sleazy looking, out of touch and incompetent party look as if it cares about the disadvantaged.

PISA is about as authoritative and impartial as it gets and all world leaders, of every political bent, take their research seriously. The gist of the Finnish model is that focus on equity and eradicating social problems caused by poverty will create the basis for successful school reform.

I haven't yet read this research you have linked to, but if that does not say so, perhaps you might link to some research which shows that a vastly unequal society, with high levels of poverty, segragation and selection have education systems that perform at the top of rankings.

You mention Shanghai. PISA does not claim that Shanghai represents China. It is just Shanghai that does so well. Have you been to Shanghai or visited its schools or are you just cutting and pasting bits of information to suit your ideology? I spent three years travelling to Shanghai and visited a number of schools, so I am familiar with both their methods and why this city is distinct from not just the rest of China but the rest of the world. Would you care to share your knowledge first?

Perhaps Gove has seen what is happening to Jeremy Hunt and is mindful of the fact that, unlike Hunt, he won't get caught out if he now starts being seen to be doing the right thing if not actually doing it.

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 10:51

Janet - Your quote, as you will know, is incomplete:

'Finland has a superb school system, but, significantly, it scores at the very top only on PISA, not on other international assessments. Finland also has a national curriculum more in sync with a “literacy” thrust, making PISA a friendly judge in comparing Finnish students with students from other countries.'

This post is entitled 'A reminder – How Finnish Education reform addressed the economic inequality of society'

The Finn school system may very well have been superb for quite some time.

Finnish PISA results stem from an egalitarian society with a long tradition of educational prowess, together with teaching to a Finnish Matriculation exam that, itself, closely matches PISA test parameters, but not those of other tests, where Finnish performance is consequently less compelling.

'As the FIMS scores indicate, Finnish students did quite well in 1964, several decades before many of the policies targeting professionalism, equity, decentralization, and de-streaming were adopted. This suggests that cultural and societal factors, which predate and are intertwined with the policies in question, may be the real drivers of success.

Yet Finland also scores higher on PISA than on TIMSS. Why is that?

A plausible hypothesis stems from differences in the content of the two tests.

The content of PISA is a better match with Finland’s curriculum than is the TIMSS
content.'

'The reforms have not avoided controversy. When PISA results showed Finland
to be the top country in the world in math, a group of more than two hundred university mathematicians in Finland petitioned the Finnish education ministry to complain
that, regardless of what PISA was indicating, students increasingly were arriving in
their classrooms unprepared in mathematics.'

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2011/2/07%20educ...

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 11:05

This is all just a bit pathetic and desperate isn't it TIm? What is the point of it? To somehow discredit or play down Finland's success to show that it is not worth emulating in any way? Compared to Finland, even with the little niggles you try to introduce, how is our education system going to be improved when it has been stagant for decades, whilst Finland's has been on an upward trajectory? How does it hope to improve when the GERM of teaching to the test; endless testing; long schools hours; punitive measures; alienating the teaching profession, selection, segregation; fake "choice" exemplified by community schools, academies, free schools, private schools, grammar schools, higher levels of poverty and greater social injusitce have been increased to alarmingly levels by this government? Anyone who wanted to improve schools for each and every child and not the minority of socially and financially advantaged children would want to find ways of emulating Finland's success. To do otherwise would be to stand alongisde Gove in the hypocrite queue, bleating about how unfair life is for the poor but actually doing nothing about it because it suits them to keep the servants in their place and imprison them there forever.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 12:09

Tim - before 2011 Finland only participated in one series of TIMSS tests - in 1999.

http://nces.ed.gov/timss/countries.asp

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 12:18

There are few more pathetic and desperate sounds than an intemperate commentator vainly trying to justify an injudicious post, without having bothered to take the time to read contrary evidence offered up, for all to review, in a spirit of balance and fairness.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 13:13

Tim I tried to read the research you mentioned but I couldn't find it from the link you gave.

I think others are having the same problem.

Please could you give clear directions regarding how to find it?

At the meeting on Thursday Pasi Sahlberg said that other indicators of standards in Finnish education were also very good but we didn't discuss any specifics. I would be interested to look at any data anyone wants to share.

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 14:10

The problem is that the above post lacks clarity.

'The fact is, their superior (educational) system was possible because the economic inequality in Finland was virtually done away with.'

This is undoubtedly true, and supported by a great deal of solid evidence.

But economic and, indeed, social inequality in Finland was 'virtually done away with' long before the educational reforms, as my reference points out.

Consequently those specific reforms may have little relevance to other nations until they achieve greater levels of social equality themselves, by other means.

'The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed.'

This is unclear.

Does the poster mean here that educational reform was responsible for improving the economic equality of Finland, having previously claimed that 'economic inequality in Finland was virtually done away with' prior to that reform and indeed had made that reform possible?

After all, that is the title of the post: 'A reminder – How Finnish Education reform addressed the economic inequality of society'

Again, the reference I give suggests that cultural and societal factors are the drivers of educational success in Finland, rather than educational success driving increasing levels of social equality.

That being the case, it follows that the Finnish educational system, good though it may very well be, is a complete red herring for anyone hoping to achieve enhanced social equality.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2011/2/07%20educ...

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 17:19

Your proposition I can understand. You put it in your heading. Thank you:

'A reminder – How Finnish Education reform addressed the economic inequality of society.'

But Finnish Education reform took place against the backdrop of a society already socially and economically egalitarian as a result of societal and cultural forces, as you say, yourself.

So my question is this: 'if the problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society' as your quotation states, surely the U.S.A. will have to address economic equality before any educational reforms based on the Finnish experience can be at all helpful?

You have a question for me:

'show us the evidence that increasing poverty and widening the income gap is conducive to helping schools tackle attainment problems resulting from deprivation.'

I can't see how increasing poverty cannot possibly help schools in any way at all.

A widening of the income gap also seems unlikely to be at all helpful.

However it seems unfair to blame the secretary of state of education for either.

Levels of both economic growth and income/wages are lagging economic indicators

You would do better to investigate the Blair/Brown pro cyclical levels of public spending which failed to enhance either education or social equity over a period of thirteen years in government, 1997-2010.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 19:31

Many thanks for the direct link to the report Tim, I found it very interesting.

It raises some reasonable concerns about possible downsides of the Finnish system but there are no results which raise concerns there. Since the report is from 2010, my first move was to try and find the much anticipated TIMSS results for 2011, but I can't. Do they exist yet? Can anyone else find them? I think they'd be really useful here.

I can't find a direct reference to the PISA results for 2011 either. Are they out yet? I can't remember was Pasi using them or not?

The report makes a comment about university tutors saying students lack basic skills but it's hard to know whether that's significant or not as looking back I can't remember a time when university tutors weren't complaining either about students' lack of basic skills or grade deflation.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 12:49

Show us the evidence that Finnish equality and their radical education system has been a failure then Tim and how increasing poverty and widening the income gap is conducive to helping schools tackle attainment problems resulting from deprivation. You can nit pick and call this a balanced viewpoint but the Finnish success speaks for itself. This is why those who advocate academies and free schools are blinkered or perhaps self serving - based are they are on a system that has failed to emulate Finland's example of excellence in a country riven with a chasm between haves and have-nots.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 16:36

The problem, Tim is not that post is unclear. The problem is that you cannot admit that the Finns’ education success story is closely bound to the principles of social equality. You are tying yourself up in tighter knots and are in danger of disappearing up your own backside with trying to justify that social equality plays no part in improving the state school system for everyone.

Have you read Pasi Sahlberg’s book? The point of my post was actually to encourage people to read the Atlantic magazine article which concludes:-

“The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.”

Is this clear enough for you Tim or will you now argue that none of this is applicable to Britain because the author was writing about America? Or will you be blindly march on ahead obsessed with your chicken or egg questions?

The correlation between social cohesion and high educational achievement couldn’t be more obvious than in the Finnish example, but you choose to remain wilfully blind or “unclear”.

Tim - show us the evidence that increasing poverty and widening the income gap is conducive to helping schools tackle attainment problems resulting from deprivation. America has remained stagant and average when it comes to education results yet here Gove is, replicating their methods that have failed over 20 years, the same period that Finland had leapt to the top of the rankings. And Gove is doing in this a country where his government has actually increased unemployment, increased child poverty and which presides over a country that has one of the widest income gaps in the industrialised world.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 19/05/2012 - 10:08

Tim - thank you for making the point about Shanghai. This city is at the top of the 2009 PISA league tables with a spectacular lead over other countries. However, you are correct in pointing out that it is also leagues ahead of other Chinese urban centres and rural areas. Yet many commentators talk about Shanghai as if it represents the entire country. Shanghai's performance, and that of Hong Kong, is used as a warning about how the UK is being outperformed by China as a whole.

Yet UK performed at the same level of two other Chinese jurisdictions - Chinese Tapei and Macao China. This fact is conveniently forgotten by those who use the PISA 2009 figures to bemoan the state of UK education.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 08:04

Rebecca - reply to post above 19/5/12, 7.31pm (no reply button). The 2011 results for the Trends in Maths and Science Survey (TIMSS) will be published in December 2012. They will not be much help in assessing Finland's literacy because TIMSS obviously doesn't cover literacy.

http://www.nfer.ac.uk/research/projects/trends-in-international-mathemat...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 08:27

Thanks Janet,

I think they will be interesting. Just to recap the difference between TIMSS and PISA:

TIMSS mainly uses classically 'curricular questions' - abstracted of context and testing the core skills.
PISA uses questions which are embedded in context, with many of them requiring the student to work out how to approach the question and select which techniques to use.
(Both sites have sample questions you can compare if you're interested - TIMSS questions look more like an old exam paper - PISA questions look 'applied' or 'functional'.)

PISA results are the gold standard in the 21st century and the UK move towards including functional skills at GCSE maths and so on reflects this.

However the plausible allegation would be that students who focus on applied problem solving may be failing to cover all the core curriculum. This is a challenge for teachers who let their students work on extended projects and investigations - when they do this they are not studying a curriculum in a traditionally organised way and different students may learn different skills so how to you ensure they've all covered everything?

If there is a problem here it is likely to show up in TIMSS results.

My suspicion is that the TIMSS results will also be extremely good - but let's hope they've overcome the issues from 1999 where the Finnish children who took the test were quite a bit younger than those from other countries (over half a year I think if I remember rightly?) so that there is a fair comparison this time.

Having taught in both child centred and curriculum centred ways I know that while it is generally extremely hard to get the 'curriculum centred' children to cope well with functional skills and PISA, it is takes only a little focus and effort to prepare children who have been taught through 'child centred' curriculums for traditional exams and that this is becoming easier and easier as we have online teaching and tracking tools.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/05/2012 - 09:01

Rebecca - thanks for reminding us about the difference between the types of questions asked in TIMSS and PISA. I didn't realise that TIMSS grew from the International Maths Studies - the first one, called the First International Maths Study (FIMS) took place in 1964.

In FIMS 1964, Finland was 4th out of 12 participating countries. England was 6th. In TIMSS 1999 (the only TIMSS in which Finland participated), Finland was 5th out of the original 12 countries (14th out of 38) in Maths, and 10/38 in Science. England was 20/38 for Maths and 9/38 in Science. (England's TIMSS 2007 international ranking rose - see FAQs above).

This raises the interesting question about how far the success of a country should be measured merely by international league tables. For example, how far is Shanghai's apparent success due to neglect of subjects which are not measured by PISA?

Politicians use these for propaganda either for praise (see link below for Labour's euphoria over the PISA 2000 results have now been discredited) or for censure - the present Government uses the same discredited 2000 results to show that UK is plummeting down league tables.

http://www.suttontrust.com/research/englands-education-what-can-be-learn... (NB this report was published in 2004 and discusses the 2000 PISA figures. OECD found these figures to be unreliable after 2004)

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