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Sixth-formers do better in university-style courses

Sixth-form colleges in Finland are to move to a "university-style" study programme, with pupils having more choice over what they study and how long they take, writes Frances Rafferty.

The number of compulsory courses will drop from 80 per cent to 55 per cent, pupils can choose to complete the curriculum in two to four years and need not attend formal classes.

This "non-graded" approach has been piloted in 30 sixth-form colleges and principals report that it increased pupils' motivation, reduced drop-out rates and improved overall results.

The new system, although not compulsory, is expected to be adopted by virtually all sixth-form colleges in the next academic year.

Ressu sixth-form college, founded a hundred years ago in central Helsinki, is one of the pilot schools. Principal Antero Pentilla is enthusiastic. He believes it allows pupils to progress at their own pace and the new freedom also brings with it a responsibility to organise their own courses.

The timetable is organised once the pupils have decided which courses they want to take and when they want to do them. The school specialises in sciences and every Ressu student starts with two advanced courses in mathematics and physics. For those who wish to continue these disciplines, the schools offers 14 mathematics courses, while 10 languages are also on offer. Most Finns will have studied Swedish and English for six to seven years before sixth-form college and they can add anything from Latin to Chinese to the list. Driving lessons are also available in school hours.

Ressu is one of the elite schools in Helsinki. It is able to select the pupils it wants, and has 329 girls and 206 boys. The differential in exam results between boys and girls (with girls performing better at all levels) is perceived to be a problem. Universities, which set their own examinations for entry, are discovering that girls do far better than boys and some faculties are introducing new "boy-friendly" exams. Pupils can also go on to study vocational qualifications.

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