Why Finnish Schools Are Better (Sort Of..)

Why Finnish Schools Are Better (Sort Of..)

“One of the luckiest things to happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”

Agatha Christie

Not all school systems are the same.

In Finland, there are no Ofsted-style inspections, no streaming by ability, no fee-paying private schools, no school uniforms and no school league tables; and yet a staggering 93% of students graduate from either vocational or academic courses, with 66% going on to higher education; the highest rate in the European Union. What’s going on? The Finnish education system was revolutionized some 50 years ago as part of the country’s recovery plan and with the first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test scores back in 2000, Finland was revealed to have the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in Maths, too. But this impressive ranking is barely on their radar. ‘We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,’ said Pasi Sahlberg, former director general of the Finnish education system. ‘We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.’ (LynNell Hancock, Smithsonian Magazine, 2011)

Far from the current western model for state education, Finnish students only begin school at age 7 and there was until recently no compulsory schooling past 16, forming a total of 9 years’ mandatory education compared to almost 15 years in the UK. It’s as far as post-industrial schooling has come to a perfect system, but I’m still not convinced. Even in the last few years, Finland has seen some shift in their unshakeable system, with PISA rankings falling (not that they care) and measures brought into schools to stretch more gifted students. So, ability streaming is back. Most recently, the minimum leaving age for students was raised to 18 – in line with the UK – and changes in school demographics has seen, anecdotally, the start of many parents ‘shopping’ for the best schools. Rather like comparing Nokia and iPhone, it turns out that public education is all much of a muchness when it comes down to it.

And I’m not trashing the Finnish model here, because I do think it stands head and shoulders above the rest. I’m just saying that, having seen the multiple benefits of homeschooling in action, I’m not convinced any school exists which could begin to measure up to that.