What on earth makes Finnish schools SO good?

by | Jan 12, 2019 | Classroom Practice, Homeschooling/Parents & Carers, Inclusion, International, Leadership | 0 comments

This time last year I had a thought.

I work with students with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties – vulnerable people in our society who are segregated, excluded and marginalised. A group of people who, for some at a young age, were told in varying ways “you are excluded from British Education.”

I see the hideous effect this has on the young people I work with, coupled with their often traumatic past that may include extreme abuse and neglect.

 My thought was – is there an alternative to this?

I researched and became interested in Finland’s inclusive approach to education. I received a grant, and now I am here…

Many people have contacted me via twitter asking specific questions about the Finnish Education System. Here, after the first week of my trip, I offer an overview that hopefully answers some of those questions.

I am offering presentations on my Finnish findings. Please contact me if you are interested.

Video – Week 1 Finland Education Trip Reflections: The Main Differences with the UK

Below I offer a more detailed overview.

For a more in depth study I heartily recommend Finnish Lessons – Pasi Sahlberg

Starting Age and Early Years

Pupils in Finland begin formal school at the age of 7yrs.

Before that free Day Care is available for all. At Day Care some informal learning may take place, and students are encouraged to read – when they show signs of being ready and not before – there is evidence that to do so is detrimental for future learning. (See Lucy Crehan’s book Cleverlands for more).

The foci of learning before 7yrs are:

1. Enhancing the personal wellbeing of children

2. Enforcing behaviours and habits that take into account other people; and

3. Increasing individual autonomy gradually


There are very few specialist or private schools in Finland.

Instead, everyone attends mainstream school and is taught together.  This is reflected in Finland’s main educational aim is that every student achieves at least a middling level of educational achievement.

In practice this works thanks to the impressive amount of support available in schools. For example, in a school of 500 students:

  • 3 SEND Qualified to Masters Level Teachers (by law 1 for every 200 students).
  • 1 Full-time counsellor

  • 1 Part-time Psychotherapist

  • 1 Part-time Social Worker

  • 1 Part-time Nurse (all teachers have First Aid).

It is against the law to set the students by ability in schools.

There is a lot of support available for all students at Elementary level – the evidence showing that the deeper intervention then, means there is less in the students’ later education.

Video – Inclusion, SEND and Behaviour in Finnish Schools


Students take their first National Examination at the age of 16yrs. Prior to that it is up to teachers and schools to decide if/when they are assessed and give students grades throughout the year.

Video – Assessments in Finland


Curriculum content is a decision for teachers. They have the autonomy to decide what will work best for their classes.

To support this, many teachers commented to me on the high level of resources available in Finland. All textbooks are written by teachers. The system supports a teacher choosing to take a sabbatical in order to write textbooks on their subject. That said, many schools now have switched to regular digital access for lessons and students.

Teaching in Finland

All teachers must have studied for at least 5yrs, including a Masters Degree in their subject. They are very strict about this and many foreign teachers who move over find themselves being paid unqualified status and having to restudy.

My thought has shown me so far that yes, there are alternatives.

Alternatives that would work in the UK? No. Not on their own, the infrastructure of Finland’s entire social support is very different to ours, however there are ways…

I share this research now so that other teachers and educators in the UK may learn too, and hope that we are encouraged to question and reflect on our own educational situations and students with the thought – what if….?

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


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