In this country, we're so far off the Finnish line

17th April 2015 at 01:00

My son lives in Helsinki with his Finnish wife and two sons, aged 4 and 1. He recently sent me a booklet entitled "Information on comprehensive schools in Finland". As a former headteacher who is still passionate about education, I was fascinated. Here are a few of the headlines:

? Finnish children officially start school at 7, before which most take a year of preschool. My eldest grandson started at day care aged 2 and will continue into preschool in the same building.

? From 7, all children must complete 10 years of basic education, including those who are home educated. They are awarded a certificate and can then apply for advanced education. This includes a choice of academic or vocational routes, and both options can lead to university.

? Most children attend schools close to home but, if not, public transport is excellent and subsidised. Schools are free and materials are provided, with the exception of course books. Pupils are lent these and if they lose them their parents get the bill. Schools are not responsible for items that pupils lose.

? If a child moves to Finland and can't speak Finnish, an interpreter is provided, as well as Finnish lessons. Pupils can dress however they but they must have warm and waterproof coats because breaks are held outside in all weathers. Parents must provide indoor shoes and PE kit.

? The school day lasts four hours for young pupils and they stay with one teacher. Older pupils have a six-hour day and move to different rooms and teachers. Lessons last 45 minutes. If the pupil is late or absent, their parents must provide an explanation.

? All children receive a hot meal at midday, free of charge.

? School personnel include a psychologist, social worker, special needs teacher, counsellor and nurse. Every school has an elected school board, which represents the parents, defines school strategy and selects teachers.

My son would say that Finland is not a paradise and has plenty of challenges of its own, but he values the simplicity of the system, the emphasis on ensuring that every child is adequately fed and the lack of any stigma for vocational education.

It sounds so simple and sensible - why is UK education so complex and nowhere near as good?

The writer is a teacher in the West of England

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