Now Ofsted takes up with Scandinavian model
Ofsted inspectors have travelled to Finland to see what schools in England can learn from its maths teaching.
The Nordic country's admired education system has done particularly well in maths, according to international comparative studies Pisa and TIMSS, which rated the country highly in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2006.
Finland has been praised by UK politicians - including Education Secretary Michael Gove - in the past few years as having an educational model that English schools should look to learn from.
The depth and quality of teacher training in Finland was among the factors helping the country to excel in the subject, the inspectors concluded.
They found that teaching practice placements during initial teacher training education were shorter than those in England.
But they had a "depth and quality" that "develops reflective teachers and leads to effective links between theory and practice".
"From the outset, trainees are supported with an inclusive ethos similar to that from which school pupils benefit to ensure that they do not fall behind," the watchdog found. The Ofsted inspectors visited three schools and a university in each of three towns last year.
They uncovered low anxiety levels about maths among pupils, although their interest in the subject was low.
An emphasis on problem solving had been part of the curriculum since 1985 and there was support for low-attaining pupils.
Another factor was the level of maths and other subject-specific training that primary teachers received. It contributed to the quality of their teaching, their confidence in maths and their pupils' ability to learn the subject.
The news follows the 2008 government-commissioned Williams review of maths in England's primaries, which concluded that initial teacher training was a weakness.
It found that essential confidence stemmed from "deep mathematical subject and pedagogical knowledge" that teachers were not getting from most initial training.
Resources were another key factor behind the Finns' success in maths, Ofsted found. "Textbooks underpin all children's development of problem solving, thinking and rigour in applying mathematical techniques," the inspectors write.
"They create a fairly consistent pedagogical approach to teaching mathematics as they are adhered to closely in many lessons."
National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby said: "It seems to me this is a sensible thing to do.
"We can always learn from other countries but you do have to ask the reasons for the differences you find. They are not always in your control.
"Finland has different levels of social equality, but that doesn't mean you won't find something useful."
Ofsted also cites the country's cultural and social homogeneity, the "promotion of equity at all levels in education", small class sizes and the education of teachers to master's level.
The watchdog admits that some of these factors "cannot be isolated from overall educational philosophy which, in turn, reflects wider beliefs and culture".
"Aspects of the current Finnish approach might not be transferred easily to the current English context," its report says.