Annex 2: Note of the Committee's visit to
Finland, 17 and 18 February 2011|
These note offers a brief record of the visit to
Finland undertaken by five members of the Education Select Committee,
as part of its inquiry into the role and performance of Ofsted.
The objective of this short visit was to establish how Finland
manages to have such a world-leading education system with a complete
lack of central inspection, and with very little public scrutiny
of its schools.
Members in attendance:
- Graham Stuart MP (Chair)
- Neil Carmichael MP
- Nic Dakin MP
- Ian Mearns MP
- Lisa Nandy MP
In advance of the Committee's visit, the Committee
Chair and Specialist met the British Ambassador to Finland in
London. On the morning of Thursday 17 February, the Ambassador
and Embassy staff provided Committee members and staff with a
fuller briefing on Finland's education system.
Compulsory education in Finland begins at age 7;
basic education continues until 16. At that point, students attend
either general or vocational schools. Teaching is a much-admired
profession, with only around 12% of applicants being accepted
for training, and there is very little central prescription: in
addition to the lack of inspection, very little attainment data
is published, and spending is entirely devolved to municipalities.
There is also great emphasis placed on continuity of education
policy: the direction of travel has remained similar for fifty
years. One in three Finns has aged 25-64 has a higher education
degree, and there are no fees payable for higher education.
It is worthy of note that Finland is, in many respects,
a very different country to the UK. The population is dramatically
smaller (5.4m compared with 62m) and there is substantially less
immigration. Politically, Finland is commonly governed by Coalitions;
geographically, it is very large with a very sparsely populated
Vesala Comprehensive School, Helsinki (ages 13-15)
The Committee's first visit was to Vesala School,
where members were hosted by headmaster Juha Juvonen and special
education co-ordinator Niina Halonen-Malliarakis. Vesala is situated
in an area of some deprivation, and students hail from twenty-three
nationalities, accounting for around 27.5% of the 387 students.
There are seventy special needs pupils. All forty-six teachers
have Masters level degrees, and the school has an emphasis on
nature and science, including an outstanding greenhouse facility
where students learn about and care for animals and plants. The
school receives 'positive discrimination funding' because of its
situation in a socio-economically deprived neighbourhood.
The Committee was particularly struck by the Finnish
school system's emphasis on welfare. A nurse works in the school
every day; other welfare staff include a social worker (half the
week), a psychiatric nurse (half the week), and a psychologist
(one day a week). Great attention is also accorded to students
with special needs. Almost a third are "integrated"
into mainstream classes, with others taught in a variety of other
special needs classes. The Committee was also interested to see
the flexible solutions offered, where students participate in
school on a part-time basis.
Mr Juvonen explained the processes used at Vesala
for quality evaluation, in the absence of external inspection.
Staff undergo a yearly evaluation with the school leadership,
but are not often observed by the headteacher in their own classrooms.
Pupils and parents are both offered questionnaires, and exam results
are submitted to the Helsinki municipality, although they are
not usually made public. Mr Juvonen explained that dismissing
poorly-performing staff is a complex and lengthy procedure, but
does not often happen, attributed in part to the high quality
of Finnish teachers. Ms Halonen-Malliarakis explained that Finnish
education, and society more broadly, places great store on equality
between adults and children. This was demonstrated in, for example,
the lack of uniform, and the first-name terms between teachers
and students. However, Ms Halonen-Malliarakis also noted that
this can lead to difficulties around behaviour and discipline,
because boundaries are not sufficiently drawn between teachers
and their classes.
Lunch with members of the Finnish Parliament
The Committee was delighted to meet its counterparts
from the Finnish Parliament's Education and Culture Committee.
Lunch, held at the Parliament building, was hosted by Ms Raija
Vahasalo (Committee Chair) and her fellow members Mr Tuomo Hanninen
and Mr Paavo Arhinmaki. Discussion between members focussed on
the lessons which the two countries' education systems could learn
from each other, as well as the respective programmes of work
for their committees.
Seminar at the Finnish National Board of Education
A seminar was hosted at the National Board of Education
with a focus on school inspection and accountability. The Committee
was hosted by Ms Jaana Palojarvi, Director for International Relations
at the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Dr Kristiina Volmari, Senior Adviser at the Board
of Education, presented an overview of the Finnish education system,
including school accountability. She told the Committee that Finland
has strong political consensus on educationas well as on
childcare entitlements, and it was noted that the direction of
policy has changed very little in fifty years, which has given
Finland the opportunity to focus on improvement. There is also
very little private education in Finland (less than 1% of students)there
is also little Church involvement in educationand throughout
the system there is an average class size of under nineteen students.
Officially, there are no catchment areas for schools but priority
is given to local parents; nearly everyone gets their 'first choice'
school. Finland does not have a strong sense of 'class': education
is valued, because it is firmly seen throughout society as the
way to get better prospects, jobs and lifestyle. For example,
Finns are ineligible for unemployment benefits under the age of
25 unless they have applied for further education.
Dr Volmari emphasised that a major factor in Finland's
consistently high performance in international education tables
is the quality of its teachers. The profession is one of the most
popular among graduatesonly around 12% of applicants are
admitted into teacher trainingalthough there are currently
efforts to recruit more men. Men are, however, over-represented
in school leadership positions. 57% of principals are men, compared
to just 25.4% of primary school teachers, and 20% of special needs
Another major factor, which relates directly to inspection,
appeared to be the professional autonomy accorded to teachers
and school leaders. Finland operates on a system of trust, and
considerable budgetary, curriculum and pedagogical power is devolved
to school level. For example, decisions on the education of special
needs pupils, and how to spend the extra money they receive, is
left to headteachers. Similarly, much of the curriculum, outside
the core subjects, is dictated at local level, as are all quality
assurance and teacher evaluation methods. There is no directive
on how much teacher observation heads should conduct; nor are
there central regulations on class size or allocation of municipal
subsidies. This, in turn, promotes a strong relationship between
school leaders and the local government. There is also a good
relationship between Government and the single union for education
staff, which Dr Volmari said is involved in all decision-making.
Following Dr Volmari's presentation, the Committee
heard from Dr Pasi Reinikainen, the Secretary-General and Director
of the Finnish Education Evaluation Council. The Council is an
independent expert body which assists the Ministry of Education
and Culture, as well as individual institutions, in matters pertaining
to evaluation. Dr Reinikainen outlined reasons for Finland's outstanding
performance in international education tables, such as PISA. He
emphasised that there is socio-economic background makes very
little difference to Finnish students' performance, as there is
great emphasis on providing equality of education at all schools;
the variation in student performance between schools is very minimal.
Like Dr Volmari, Dr Reinikainen placed great emphasis on the quality
of Finnish teachers, who are accorded great status and are educated
to Masters degree level. Local partnership working and substantial
school autonomy are, he felt, major factors in the system's high
performance, as is the substantial per-pupil funding and the low
levels of formal testing.
Dr Reinikainen explained how Finland manages school
accountability without an inspectorate. Schools are accountable
for spending to municipal and regional offices, who have devolved
power for spending, and who are also responsible for scrutinising
a school's examination performance. The Education Evaluation Council
works with Government to provide schools with support to evaluate
their own performance, and schools have 'welfare boards' concerned
with the broader well-being of students. However, because the
focus has been on equating performance across schools, it was
reasoned that there is thus no need for an external inspectorate
to judge performance across the country. Committee members noted,
however, thatconsidering the lack of publicly available,
or much collected, datait is difficult to establish whether
schools are, indeed, performing at consistent levels, which might
be considered an argument for inspection.
Interestingly, the aim of evaluation was seen as
the gathering and analysis of information to develop education
generally, rather than to direct improvement in individual settingsagain
supporting the focus on a fair and balanced system, rather than
on changing individual school practices.
Meeting at the Ambassador's Residence
The British Ambassador to Finland hosted a meeting
with guests drawn from across the Finnish education system. These
included local politicians, Government and municipal officials,
academics and headteachers. Conversation covered a wide range
of topics concerning education and children's services, including
local provision and autonomy, curriculum and qualifications, the
role of independent scrutiny, Government policy, and international
Lansimaki School, Vantaa (ages 7-12)
To conclude their brief stay in Finland, Committee
members visited Lansimaki School, where they were hosted by Principal
Ms Virpi Lehmusvaara and members of her staff, along with Mr Ilkka
Kalo, Director of Basic Education for the City of Vantaa. Lansimaki
School has a focus on music education, with additional funding
from the local authority to support its orchestra, as well as
provision of instruments and specialists. The school serves a
diverse section of the population, including immigrant students
from a number of cultures.
The Committee toured the school and visited classes,
as well as meeting students and staff. Similar observations were
made to the experiences at Vesala School, not least in the focus
on children's well-being; small class sizes; and the degree of
professional autonomy available to teachers.