There’s an excellent article in the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine looking at Finland’s schools, and their incredible success. On international tests they keep coming top, or near to it.
And there’s a certain irony in it – the Finnish don’t really believe in testing.
As such they’re not as proud of their PISA scores as they might be. We certainly make a song and a dance about how well we do on them. Much better than the UK & US, even above Australia…
Which makes it very odd that we seem keen to follow the policies that the UK, US and Australia are ditching and seen as part of their failure: National Standards.
Finland hasn’t just not gone down the National Standard route, they only have 1 exam – at the end of senior school. Before that they trust their teachers.
Anne Tolley certainly doesn’t trust teachers. She sees them as vested interests, rather than professionals whose interests are vested in our children.
She talks about our 20% failure rate of our schools – and the need to measure them. Teachers will tell you they know exactly who the 20% are now. If we want to fix the 20%, instead of spending our time constantly measuring them, we should put the resources into classrooms to enable teachers to deal with them. Finland has lots of qualified teachers’ aides to work with slow or difficult children, so that they don’t hold the class up – indeed nearly 30% of children receive some special help.
Testing has unwanted side-effects. The first is that we teach our children to pass tests, instead of to learn. The test becomes the curriculum. In Finland a wide variety of play and curriculum is encouraged, to develop children’s brains and their love of learning. In the US, with the No Child Left Behind policy (from George W Bush, who wished to be the education president), Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic trumped all else. Jolisa Gracewood wrote a chilling account of the consequences there.
It also produces league tables, which Anne Tolley has admitted to being powerless to stop. Teachers will be judged on these tables, and thus they will want to make sure that the maximum of children will reach National Standards. Good thing I hear you say? Not if the logical consequence is that teachers spend all their time concentrating on the 30% below the Standard, leaving the 50% who pass anyway bored and unchallenged, and the 20% who are too hard to get over the mark… failing like they were before.
ACT’s answer is Performance Pay. The obvious first question is how you measure performance. The easiest answer is with the Standards and how many pass – which will just exacerbate teaching to the test, and really kill the chances of our children having a balanced education. Good luck to anyone trying to get good pay in a decile 1 school – and good luck to any decile 1 school trying to employ decent teachers. It will also lead to the Performance Pay Paradox – where performance decreases if you pay for it. Teachers don’t become teachers for the money, but with performance pay it becomes the focus – instead of the children, who suffer for it.
Finland has a nice counterpoint in its neighbour Norway. Also well below us in the PISA scores, it has also gone down the testing route. Resources are going into testing and recruitment, instead of into the classroom. Education is dictated to the teachers, not lead by them.
We need to decide whether we want to be Finland or Norway. Whether we back the professional teachers or the amateur politicians.
Both National & Act’s simplistic solutions risk leading our children (and our future) to simplistic failure.
Although this post should be covered by the opinion section of electoral law and shouldn’t need authorisation, here’s mine anyway, just to be safe:
Authorised by Ben Clark, 54 Aramoana Ave, Devonport