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Finland - where salaries are similar but status is leagues ahead

Ask anyone in Finland how its schools became the best performing in the world and, like Gordon Brown, they will point to the quality of its teachers. They are not significantly better paid than in Britain yet enjoy an infinitely higher status and popularity in this small country, where the best students fight to join them.

As Sari Sarkomaa, the Finnish minister of education, told a Microsoft conference in Helsinki this week: "Our highly qualified teachers are regarded as valued experts in society."

But there are other oft-cited factors in the Finnish success story that Mr Brown failed to mention, which can be summed up in two words: trust and equity.

As teachers are so well-respected, they are trusted to get on with the job without central government interference, inspection, national tests or league tables. The vast majority of parents, officials say, are happy for their pupils to attend their neighbourhood school because they trust that it will be a good one. And as the last international comparative PISA results showed, with Finland finishing top in reading and science and second only to Hong Kong in maths, those parents are usually right.

Mr Brown's idea of tough intervention in failing schools would be completely alien to Finnish ministers because, as the PISA results have also shown, in this equitable comprehensive system they simply do not exist.

Ministers in Helsinki might also be a little surprised to hear the British Prime Minister cite their daycare system as an example of good "early learning".

In Finland, until the age of six the emphasis is strictly on play. Those running daycare centres in the most prosperous areas of this rich country estimate that only one in five children can read by the age of five.

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