Commentary - College shootings dull glow surrounding Finnish education

26th September 2008 at 01:00

Praise for Finland's school system in the OECD report will be of little consolation to the country's teachers after this week's shooting at a vocational college.

Finland held a national day of mourning after a 22-year-old trainee chef killed 10 people at the Kauhajoki school of hospitality on Tuesday. It was the second school shooting in the country in a year.

A national debate over its lax gun laws began after an attack on a high school last November, in which six students, a school nurse and a headteacher were shot.

Finlands' schools remain among the most highly regarded in the world because of top positions in several international league tables.

The new report from the OECD's economics department, urges UK education ministers to consider its example, although it notes that Finland's "distinctive social values" make it difficult to export its approaches.

In England, the Conservatives have announced plans to copy ideas from Finland's neighbour Sweden, and create up to 3,000 privately owned but taxpayer-funded schools, modelled on the country's "free schools". The Tories hope the plan will increase parental choice, even if it allows existing state schools to wither.

But the Finnish system is entirely opposed to such an approach. In her working paper for the OECD, Anne-Marie Brook, the senior economist, writes: "The Finnish system does not advocate competitive choice between schools or order its schools in public performance rankings.

"The philosophy of Finnish school leadership training providers is that `all schools must be good enough and there is no reason to have elite schools and bad schools'."

Instead of heavy-handed interventions in underperforming schools, the local authority will ask `What has gone wrong? How can we help the school?' Finland's teachers are also free from Ofsted and standardised national tests.

But the Finnish measure which Labour has copied instead to raise teachers' status is to introduce a compulsory masters degree.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference that ministers should be more careful about ideas they import from abroad.

"Ministers should have their passports withdrawn," she said. "We are already having enough problems with their ideas from Sweden, Finland and America."

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