Our latest Comenius trip enabled three staff to visit Finland, a country I have read so much about in terms of its approach to education. Finland consistently tops most educational surveys, it leads in children’s achievements and has a system that many of us envy. Schools receive no inspections, no Ofsted, no SATs, no end of key stage assessment or league tables to measure one setting against another.
The staff we met certainly didn’t appear stressed and loved their work. The curriculum showed a leaning towards creative work, but it was far from radical and innovative. Children’s attitudes weren’t markedly different from those you’d find in our schools but they only start their formal schooling at 6 or 7 so they’ve learnt a lot of social skills before they begin. This means more formal learning can happen quicker and the children are more receptive to it. I have spoken to people in the past who think that by starting school later they will remain behind their global peers but the reality is that because they begin school when they are ready to learn, their rate of progress is quicker.
Finnish society also seems to place great importance on schools and learning. In the afternoons after school, many of the children could be found in the library, a well used and inviting environment that children readily access. Indeed the schools showed a relaxed, calm atmosphere that reflects the life in general.
Teaching is a Masters profession and as such held in high esteem. The parents we met fully supported school and life seemed to work in harmony! School dinners are paid for by the state and in the main trips and outings are also provided free of charge. There is a healthy love and respect for the arts and society in general seems to value culture and learning in a way we don’t here.
What did I learn from this trip to Finland? I learnt that education is about society not just school. The classes I watched didn’t show me any great pedagogy, no hidden formula for success, no magical insights into a radically different approach that produced superior results. Finland sees learning and education as everyone’s responsibility, parents and the state don’t simply hand children over to schools and say ‘your job.’ That collective responsibility, respectful partnership and shared investment in their children’s future is where we really need to learn from our European colleagues.