Why the UK Should Be Looking for Inspiration from Finland’s Education System

Despite being one of the most progressive countries in the world, the UK has been consistently average in the world PISA rankings in terms of maths and reading, even though the UK generally spends more on the education sector than other countries in the PISA list. The results also revealed that socio-economically disadvantaged students tended to be less likely to succeed than those more advantaged.

While these results don’t leave the UK in crisis, the recent push back to a more traditional curriculum and talk of a potential revival of grammar schools suggest a worrying lack of advancement in the UK’s education system and a lack of progress in creating better equality for UK pupils.

In comparison, the small nation of Finland has consistently trumped in the PISA rankings and educational experts from around the world flock yearly to Finland to discover their secrets of their educational system.

Many of these experts are shocked to discover that Finland’s educational success isn’t defined by state-of-the-art technology or long classroom hours. Instead it is defined by the simple moral ethic of wanting to provide equal opportunities for all students in Finland, regardless of their background.

This desire for equality is underlined by the government’s school welfare policies. For all children tuition and their learning materials are completely free, alongside a free school meal every day. There are no private schools and the high standard of teachers means that no school is superior to others in its educational standard.

This push for equality is not the only thing that aids Finland’s education system. Being a teacher in Finland is a highly attractive profession, with a teaching post being prized as greatly as being as medical professional. In fact, it is so difficult to gain a place as a teacher, that in 2014 only 9% of applicants for Helsinki University’s training for class teachers were admitted.

Additionally, all teachers educating children in 1st to 6th grade must have at least a Master of Education degree, and teachers of children in 7th to 9th grade must also have a Master’s degree in their specific subject on top of educational qualifications. This high degree of professionalism, and the treatment of teachers as such is a stark contrast to the UK, where independent schools can hire teachers who aren’t even qualified.

These factors reinforce the strength of the Finnish education system, and are sure to contribute to the fact that a huge 99.7% of all pupils graduate from compulsory education.

With this strength in mind, Finland is about to take on a revolutionary new approach to their curriculum which has left many astonished at the risk they are undertaking. This new curriculum will give greater autonomy to teachers and schools, allowing them to use varied pedagogical practices to aid children in a more personalised learning approach.

This move is underpinned by a desire to prepare Finnish pupils for the modern world, keeping them up-to-date with new technology and enabling them with the skills they need to succeed in a progressive and technologically advanced environment. A stark contrast to the UK’s new EBacc which looks to encourage a more traditional curriculum, often at the expense of art and vocational subjects.

The compassion, professionalism, and encouragement that we see in Finland’s education system could be transferred to the UK through careful curriculum study and greater measures in creating equality for all pupils. The UK has already taken steps towards professionalising the teaching sector with the new College of Teaching, an independent chartered body for teachers that aims at creating an ‘equality of status’ in line with other recognised professions.

But this alone is not enough, and we can only hope that the UK will take greater steps to battle inequality and enable pupils with the skills to cope in this dynamic, technology orientated world. Finland’s new curriculum will be launched in autumn 2016, and if their success at the top of the educational food chain continues then perhaps the UK and other leading countries will look to this small Nordic nation as inspiration for our own children’s future.

Hannah Scott — Teachers Register Contributor