Kills 99.9% of GERMs

11th November 2011 at 00:00

Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg was published last Friday. Its subtitle is: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? It has come at the right time for Scotland.

The official message here is that the big curriculum change debates are settled. But if we take a step back, it is clear that a new change is taking place. The 2004-07 phase was about opening up wider capacities, decluttering, deepening learning, personalisation, choice, creativity, professionalism, and the visionary "building the curriculum". Curriculum for Excellence was a subtle, complex whole. It heralded a professional climate of reflection, responsibility and dialogue.

But there is now an overlay: "required" characteristics of successful implementation, auditing "to" experiences and outcomes - hundreds and hundreds strong - grade matching to existing indicator schedules, "increased expectations" in inspection, and to cap it all now "rolling out" across Scotland, standardised testing. What happened?

The central message of Sahlberg's book is that Finland established a high- performing education system by adopting policies counter to that which came in across most Western education systems. Sahlberg calls these the GERM - the Global Education Reform Movement.

The features of the GERM are: standardising teaching and learning with common criteria for measurement and data; increased focus on core subjects, particularly literacy and numeracy; teaching a prescribed curriculum; transfer of models of administration from the corporate world; high stakes accountability policies - control, inspection, division between schools and an ethos of punishment (for educators).

Sahlberg observes: "As Finnish teachers were exploring the theoretical foundations of knowledge and learning and redesigning their school curricula to be congruent with them, their peers in England, Germany, France and the United States struggled with increased school inspection, controversial externally-imposed learning standards, and competition that disturbed some teachers to the point that they decided to leave their jobs."

For us too he notes: "Scotland is currently recovering from a rather serious GERM infection a few years back."

Indeed. But are we now about to undergo a relapse? Perhaps, without a diagnosis, the infection had not gone away.

The treatment is a full course of Finnish lessons.

Niall MacKinnon, Plockton Primary.

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