Why is the Finnish school system so good?


FinlandInternational league tables comparing school standards will be released today, and it is expected they will show the UK lagging behind China, South Korea and Finland.

It is the latter I want to focus on, however, as Finland consistently comes out near the top of international of education systems. While slipping slightly in the new rankings, behind some of the East Asian systems, the Finnish education model does not churn out compliant test takers in the way that, say, the Chinese and South Korean systems do.

David Cameron has also previously singled out Finland as a country Britain would do well to emulate when it comes to education.

Uncomfortably for Michael Gove, however, a closer look at Finnish schools reveals an education system built on unapoligetically social democratic principles.

So why are Finnish schools so successful? Here’s why:

1. Children in Finland don’t start school until they are seven

In Sweden, Denmark and Finland school doesn’t begin until children are aged seven. In fact, despite the fact that English schoolchildren start at five most children in Europe begine school later. According to a recent study by the Cambridge-based Primary Review: “The assumption that an early starting age is beneficial for children’s later attainment is not well supported in the research and therefore remains open to question.”

2. Few exams and no homework until your teens

Children in Finland have more time to be children. In Finlanf there are just 12 students per teacher, meaning students have sufficient teacher interaction in the classroom. Rather than exams, school outcomes are measured using from sample-based surveys. All children are taught together in the same classroom and take one standardized test at 16. 66 per cent of students go on to college.

3. All teachers must have a master’s degree

All teachers must be qualified to at least masters level, with the degree fully subsidised.

4. The school system is completely state funded

Finland’s schools are publicly funded. There are no grammar schools, private schools, religious schools or academies. They are also run by education experts rather than by politicians and business people. As a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) put it: “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education”.

5. Finnish teachers are granted a large degree of autonomy in the classroom

Teachers are valued in Finland, and as a result are trusted to teach. Teachers in Finland also spend less time in the classroom than their American or European counterparts and therefore have more time to work on the curriculum and their own personal development.

6.School students in Finland get 75 minutes break time a day

There is also more in the way of arts and crafts and learning by doing, rather than rote memorisation. As the authors of a 2008 study of the benefits of break time/recess found, “Recess remains one of the only times during the school day when children have time and opportunities to interact with their peers on their own terms. Through interaction at recess, children learn social skills, such as how to cooperate and compromise and how to inhibit aggression. Eliminating or reducing recess destroys these learning opportunities.”

7. Every school draws from the same pool of university-trained teachers

Therefore there is much less chance of a child ending up at a bad school, regardless of where a child lives. In contrast, in Britain properties in desirable catchment areas cost on average 42 per cent more, meaning that places at the best schools are usually snapped up by the children of middle class parents.

8. No grade retention or expulsions

According to the OECD, countries where schools hold back or kick out students with low academic performance “tend to have weaker, more expensive, and more socially inequitable education systems”.

9. Strong teacher trade unions

96 percent of Finnish teachers are unionized, according to the New York Times. Starting pay for teachers is relatively modest, but high school teachers with 15 years experience make 102 per cent of what other Finnish college graduates make.

10. High quality pre-school and maternity leave for parents
Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidised daycare for parents. It also provides preschool for all five-year-olds. 97 per cent of six-year-olds go to public preschool.
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  • Mattie Val Rees

    Why can’t I post this re Finland on my timeline please?

  • JR

    It is good that Finland has a strong school system. It is also important to remember that Finland has a total population of 5.4 million. This is just over half the size of London.

    People keep highlighting the successes of countries in a range of fields where the pressures are dramatically different. It is good to recognise where things have worked, but it is also essential to think about why they have worked in context.

  • RP

    Other than investment, there doesn’t appear to be anything above that would be limited by the size of a country.

    The problem is that changes to the education system, rather than poking at the edges, would require a generational change which would require the kind of leadership no major party shows.

    One of interesting ones to me is the lack of private schools. What a natural way to force rich people to care about public provision – but not giving them an option.

  • swatnan

    Finland is not a multicultural society. We are.

  • Joy Orbison

    Good spot ‘swatnan’! I’ve done some more digging and also found that they are Scandinavian, and use the Euro! Keep up the good work.

  • Joy Orbison

    Even if it is impossible to replicate on such a scale as would be necessary in the UK (I don’t think it would be), this case study still shows that British politicians are pushing policies that are the complete opposite of what has worked so well in Finland.

  • frank100

    Well Gove uses non valid comparisons with much less jusification, e.g he cited Sweden ( population 9.5 million) to justify adoption of free schools even though doubts are being raised about their educational standards and contribution to grade inflation (Prof Vlachos, Stockholm University)

  • TM

    Because they are not obsessed with social class and raising people high because their ancestor was some slave trader or landgrabber or boring self important aristocrat. They achieve equality and better results because that is their aim as a people and government. We are too blinded by all this class nonsense to see the chaos and inequality it creates. Until we stop living in the past, we will not move forward.

  • Martin Yarnit

    The Finnish example doesn’t appeal in a country in the grip of the grammar school myth.

    Grammar schools account for only a tiny percentage of all secondary age pupils in England. To expand them or to create new ones to raise that percentage to 10 or 20% would take years and vast resources. It is not a realistic option.

    But nor is it desirable. Selection creates winners and losers. For every story of the man or woman made by grammar school there are dozens of untold stories of people failed by them. It is a well nourished myth that large numbers of working class children benefit from grammar schools. The OECD’s study of school systems around the world concludes that selection depresses standards overall.

    So what’s the alternative? Not to accept poor standards in state comprehensives for a start. There are three key changes that make a real difference:
    1. a balanced intake – neither skewed towards the least or the most able
    2. visionary and professional leadership
    3. the best teaching

    If we concentrate on bringing those about rather than trying to turn the school system upside down every five years, there is a good chance that we will eradicate the achievement gap that Michael Gove rightly excoriates. But he’ll have to resist the temptation to meddle with the curriculum. Trust the professionals to get on with it. There’s a revolutionary policy for you.

  • Martin Yarnit

    The Finnish example doesn’t appeal in a country in the grip of the grammar school myth.

    Grammar schools account for only a tiny percentage of all secondary age pupils in England. To expand them or to create new ones to raise that percentage to 10 or 20% would take years and vast resources. It is not a realistic option.

    But nor is it desirable. Selection creates winners and losers. For every story of the man or woman made by grammar school there are dozens of untold stories of people failed by them. It is a well nourished myth that large numbers of working class children benefit from grammar schools. The OECD’s study of school systems around the world concludes that selection depresses standards overall.

    So what’s the alternative? Not to accept poor standards in state comprehensives for a start. There are three key changes that make a real difference:
    1. a balanced intake – neither skewed towards the least or the most able
    2. visionary and professional leadership
    3. the best teaching

    If we concentrate on bringing those about rather than trying to turn the school system upside down every five years, there is a good chance that we will eradicate the achievement gap that Michael Gove rightly excoriates. But he’ll have to resist the temptation to meddle with the curriculum. Trust the professionals to get on with it. There’s a revolutionary policy for you.

  • TM

    Very balanced comment Martin. Now If only Gove or someone else could look at that and take it on board. Simple common sense.

  • Patch LovesNora

    I reccomend watching the videos Paradign Of Education and Education kills creativity on youtube by Ken Robinson it will help understand the process of learning :)

  • D H Made Simple

    Did they not use the UK education model in Norway, which has a similar cultural and population background as Finland?

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