Finnish get best possible start

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Warwick Mansell hazards a number of possible reasons for Finland's consistent academic success ("Reach for the Finnish line", TES, May 6). But he misses the important fact that, because of their early-years provision, Finnish children start school on a very level playing field.

A carefully-structured, well-resourced, three-year kindergarten curriculum, designed to prepare children for the 3Rs and formal learning, means that when children begin reading and written work at age seven, the vast majority succeed.

Structured attention to children's social skills, spoken language and attention span during the kindergarten years also means there are few behavioural problems.

As the Office for Standards in Education noticed when it visited Finland a year or so ago, teachers there are not distracted from teaching by constant behaviour management.

By contrast, our exceptionally early start - teaching the 3Rs in reception when many children are four years old; no structured development of listening and attention skills; and little time for oracy and social skills - means many children fall at the first fence in literacy. The resulting behavioural problems make it increasingly difficult for teachers to teach and children to learn.

Sue Palmer

Independent literacy specialist

11 St George's Road

Truro, Cornwall

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