Revolutionary Times

Finnish your education


Imagination. There’s not enough of it around. God knows, we need more of it. Not least in our education system.

Imagine our education system was the envy of the world. Imagine every 16-year- old leaves school able to write confidently, speak another language, calculate compound interest and in possession of
a solid working knowledge of chemistry, physics and biology. Imagine they leave understanding their own strengths and knowing the environments in which they thrive, so they can make informed choices about the kind of work they should do,
or the kind of further/higher education they should pursue. Imagine our private schools dwindling into havens for the super-rich from other countries, mooning wistfully at our state schools.

Imagine the proudest words any parent could say were: “My son/daughter is a teacher”.

How our education system has reached such an abysmal level could be debated for aeons. No time for that: we need to change it. Improve it.

We need to listen to Margaret Heffernan who, for her book A Bigger Prize visited schools in Finland. She found that they have no public exams before 18, no equivalent of Ofsted, everyone goes to their local school, and teachers are generally inspiring and adored – all with world-class outcomes and the smallest gap between high and low achievers of any education system in the world. I’d cite more details but I lent the book to my daughter’s head-teacher and haven’t seen it since.

Finland made active decisions. It’s a relatively small country and realised it couldn’t afford to leave any child behind. As Heffernan puts it: “In the US and UK, we still seem to believe in trickledown: that celebrating a few high achievers will inspire the rest. This doesn’t work in education any more than it does in economics. Finnish teachers really believe in their kids and believe that their job as teachers is to learn how to communicate with them.”

It’s time for us to emulate Finland.
Stop debating grammars versus comprehensives versus free schools versus academies. That’s all so beside the point. Meanwhile thousands of kids are ground down by a crappy education with uninspiring teachers in classrooms like battlefields. It is time to focus on what matters. And get radical.

Take education out of the ping-pong of party politics. Have an education committee representing all the political parties. Staff it with very experienced heads. Let it plan education for the country for the next forty years. Give them the whole budget and let them get to work. Then stack up the barricades neatly in the corner and put the kettle on.

When education is no longer a political plaything, this revolution is Finnished.

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