I returned from my month’s Education trip to Finland a few days ago. The questions I am now being asked on a regular basis are:

– Is it just amazing?

– Do they have loads of resources and money?

– Are all the students well behaved?

Overall the answer is: well, actually no – but…

In this blog I answer these questions, examine what that means in reality for Finnish Teachers and students, and what we can learn from this in the UK.
(It’s a longer one, grab a cuppa – there’s a video at the end if that’s more your thing).

I am now being booked to speak on my Finnish Education Findings.

If you would be interested in booking this for your conference/training then get in touch here.

If you have missed out on any of the previous blogs, that answer specific questions, you can read them here:

Finnish Education: Part 1 – An Overview

Finnish Education: Part 2

Finnish Education:

– Is it just amazing?

No – a lot of it feels very similar to a comprehensive school in the UK – it’s not all amazing, I saw a terrible couple of un-staffed shelves that were a school’s ‘library’ – but then 5 mins down the road is the most incredible, interactive, popular town library (where you can loan sewing machines and DIY tools, attend adult classes for free and hire out a band room) attached to a supermarket and very well used youth centre that had a light sensory room.

– Do they have loads of resources and money?

No – they spend a small amount more in Finland on Education than we do in the UK per pupil, but nowhere near how much is spent in the US – but every child receives free day care before starting school. Every child receives a free school meal throughout the whole of school, travel is paid for over 3km and a child never has to buy any books or resources, including revision guides.

N.B. There are still students who always fail to have a pen.

For more on how they structure staff and wages see my vlog here.

– Are all the students well behaved?

No – in one school I stopped my first fight with students who didn’t understand my language, and witnessed a food fight in the canteen with around 100 students – but with a maximum of 22 pupils in a class, and by law:

– 4 SEN Masters Qualified Teachers

– 1 School Social Worker

– 1-2 School Counsellors

– 1 School Psychologist

– 1 School Nurse               

per every 800 students; when there are behaviour issues there are non-teaching professionals within the school, directly linked to the Local Authority, who can support the pupils’ behaviour and mental health. Through my observations in four schools I conclude that this means:

The teachers can teach

The students learn.

In my opinion, the thing that Finnish Education has that we don’t is abalanced approach to education.

Some examples:

– Teachers’ contact lesson time is between 18-23 hours per week (dependent on subject).

– Students begin education at 7 years. Before that there is free day care for everyone, and from the age of 6 years they will work with staff who are able to teach academically WHEN a pupil shows signs of being ready.

– All staff and students only have to be on-site during the lessons. The most hours a week I saw for older students was 30 hours per week.

– There is no inspection body (like Ofsted).

– There are no league tables.

– There is no performance-related pay.

– There are no performance related observations.

– Students take their first national tests at 15/16 years.

– If a student is struggling in a subject they are given extra support by an SEN qualified teacher- and it is readily accepted that cover less contented usually helps this.

– The teachers get to choose what they teach their students and how.

– Teachers can claim tax re-reimbursements for working at home.

– Teachers can – and are actively encouraged – to take sabbaticals to do research projects or work in other educational settings.

– Maternity, paternity and adoption leave is much longer and better financed than in the UK – and jobs are held for 3 years. During that time the cover must be an unemployed person (not someone stepping into role or taking on extra duties).

(For more info in English take a look here.)

– There are no marking policies

– They are not judged on their displays

– Nearly all students are taught in mainstream schools (the exceptions are profoundly ill or disabled students)

– Paying private schools are illegal in Finland

– Setting and streaming is illegal in Finland

– There is not a common practice of exclusion in any form

What this actually looks like day-to-day:

The teachers – though still definitely moany in the staffroom- are, in general, less pressured and more relaxed. For part of my stay I was lucky enough to stay with a teacher; their worries are about the teaching, the lessons, the pupils and not about data, observations and pay.

The pupils are known – even in the big schools, I interviewed Heads and Deputies who could easily discusses different class dynamics with me and the students who made up the group.

The teaching is more personalised – because there are fewer pupils in a class and fewer additional tests and data checks, so teachers can concentrate on making great lessons.

There is much less compulsory content in the curriculum- so the teachers can tailor learning around students and real life events that cross over their subject that are happening as they teach – for example a teacher from England comes to visit…;)

(For more about the curriculum read Part 1 here.)

There is time, space and flexibility to consider the whole child. So if, for example, the child’s parents are going through a challenging separation and the child is struggling, the school can provide extra social/mental health support to help them deal with the changes, the teachers can choose to give the students less work to complete and for 9/10 of the years the child is at school there are no ‘important exams’ that will be affected.

Another question I am being asked is What is their wellbeing like?  I have found it’s tricky to answer – 

From what I can tell, the Finns don’t actually notice that their is a positive wellbeing and mental health approach to their education system, as it is so embedded. There are few overt ‘ now we’re doing a training/lesson on wellbeing’ sessions (ironically, the one I did see they used resources from The Samaritans in the UK). 

However, the fact that they are not observed, do not have performance-related pay, there are no league tables and only one national test for students does no end of good for their wellbeing. 

Much like the saunas that all the Finns seem to have easy/free access to – they seem to think it’s normal and don’t see their Education system as having ‘positive approaches to wellbeing’.

So what can we take away?

One of my main reasons I organised this trip was to learn how an Education system can be more inclusive. I work with those students in the UK who are excluded from mainstream schools; they have Emotional Behavioural Difficulties and Social, Emotional and Mental Health issues (EBD and SEMH). 

In Finland I was able to understand how such students remain in mainstream education, how they are supported, accounted for, cared for and every child’s learning is valued (not just the ones who make the league tables look good and give teachers their – much deserved – pay increases).

We can take away that inclusion for all students is  possible. 

That exclusion doesn’t have to be the answer – and other pupils still learn.

This has given me no end of hope – I want to spread this message wide, to get us thinking, questioning and experimenting with the structures that make up our Education system in the UK.

I asked every adult I interviewed a question during my research, it gave a powerful insight as to why Finland’s attitude to education is better for balance:

When a student leaves your school, if you have done your job well what does success look like?

I am now offering presentations on my Finnish Education Findings. Contact me here to book.

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