The Finnish model (and Diane Abbott)

No, sadly not that one (as right).

What is worrying, though, is the first page 0f Google images for “Finnish model” turns up endless leggy lovelies — and a single anti-tank gun.

On this occasion Malcolm’s mind is on things intellectual, particularly because LinkedIn directed his attention to an article in The Atlantic. This piece, by Anu Partanen (very much the model of a Finnish journalist working in NYC), is written specifically for the American audience; but has strong resonances for the English version of education, as promulgated by Gove and his acolytes.

Gove & co originally had the hots for the Swedish model until that relationship went sour:

The Swedish model of free schools, lauded by the Conservatives, has not significantly improved pupils’ academic achievement, a study suggests.

The research, published in Research in Public Policy, found the biggest beneficiaries tended to be pupils from educated, professional homes.

The Swedish model has influenced the government’s free schools policy.

Education Secretary Michael Gove believes free schools will lead to higher standards in England’s schools.

In Sweden, non-profit and for-profit organisations are able to set up and run schools which are publicly funded, but independent from government control.

 Of course, in the swivel-eyes of ConHome types, Gove was adrift in missing out on the for-profit bit:
In a fresh blow to the coalition’s free school programme, Nick Clegg has pledged that for-profit schools shall remain banned. This is unfortunate and does not make sense. By displaying continuing hostility towards profit-making schools, his ideological convictions are at odds with his progressive goals: without the profit motive, the prospect of a broad-based free school revolution – with the potential of increasing social mobility and improving educational standards for all – looks grim.

The can is finessed to Clegg, but surely (especially while Lansley was taking stick over the NHS “reforms”) Gove would not happily privatise the English state education system? At least not yet. So the “free schools” lack the profit motive. Even so, there is a way round that: a private operation “sponsors” a “free school”: curiously, as many activities and services as possible are then contracted back, at cost-plus, to the “sponsor”. It’s the way you sell’em.

Now, with the Swedish model proving a false floozy, can a swerve in affections be long delayed? So the political language subtly alters: no more Swedes, it’s now “Nordic” or Finnish”.

That is what made Malcolm take an interest in Anu Partanen’s essay:

… lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top…

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorisation — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation’s education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

Remember: it was those PISA comparisons that got the Blairites and the Goveians are hot-and-sweaty in the first place. Then Partanen drops the other shoe:

 Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K[indergatern] or a Ph.D.

All publicly financed. That won’t wash with the ConHome crowd.

Nor will two further “issues”:

  • “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish, … Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
 Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school …

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools…

There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

And, in the ConHome mind-set, it gets worse and worse:

  • … the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view … this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland’s students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland — unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway — was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

Got that? The keys to wholesale educational improvements are two:

  • trust the professionals, the teachers;
  • restore an egalitarian ethos.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to the petty-scandal of the day and Diane Abbott. Yes, she was silly at best, and misguided at worst (though a bit of whitey-bashing will not go too far wrong in certain Hackney communities). Only a cruel long-in-the-tooth begrudger would recall that Diane has had her previous problems with Finns and Finnish models nurses. Where she, like so many other avowedly “socialist” minds go wrong is to step back from the real problem with England’s (and it is specifically England’s) growing social divisions.

Next time: Speak for England, Diane! 


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Filed under British Left, broken society, ConHome, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., education, equality, Labour Party, leftist politics., Nick Clegg, politics, poverty, schools, social class, socialism., Tories.

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