The silent truth of the Finnish classroom

26th November 2010 at 00:00
Finland - In the country where every teacher needs a masters, schools are quietly hiring those who don't make the grade

A couple of weeks ago, education secretary Michael Gove invited the ire of the teaching unions by proposing to publish the qualifications of teachers in each school. As has been said many times before, Mr Gove is a fan of what goes on in the Finnish education system, so perhaps that is where he got his idea.

But if he really wants to replicate what is planned for Finland, he will have to take it a step further. In England, individual teachers will not be identified, but under proposals gathering momentum in Finland, a veritable who's who of those working in schools is set to be published online.

The idea has come from the head of the Finnish National Board of Education, which has demanded a compulsory, publicly accessible register detailing the qualifications of every teacher in the country. It is famously tough to become a teacher in Finland - only those with masters degrees need apply. But such stiff criteria have apparently resulted in schools being forced to surreptitiously hire those who officially fail to make the grade.

"In Finland there is a strict qualification framework to become a teacher," said education board head Timo Lankinen. "You need a masters degree and you must have teacher education.

"But we have a problem. We have many teachers who do not fulfil these qualifications. They haven't completed their masters degree or they haven't done teacher training, but certain schools take them on anyway, on one-year contracts."

The qualifications register will reassure parents and ensure quality control among teaching staff, he claims, and it will relate to teachers working in primary and secondary schools - not those working in adult education.

And, according to Mr Lankinen, it will boost teachers' status by highlighting the divide between them and their unqualified colleagues.

But leaders of Finnish industry have taken a dim view of the plan, claiming that it equates the importance of being a teacher with that of being a doctor.

"Doctors have far more responsibility, and they can set up private practices which schoolteachers can't," said Markku Koponen, education director of the Confederation of Finnish Industry. "Being on the register will not guarantee that the teacher is a good teacher.

"Some schools have to take on unqualified teachers, because there aren't enough qualified teachers in a particular subject or because a teacher is off sick... and some unqualified teachers might be very good," he adds.

Mr Koponen is also concerned that the register might lead to inflexibility in the labour market and the stigmatising of unqualified staff. However, despite the rifts it might cause in the staffroom, most qualified Finnish teachers are in favour.

According to Finland's teaching newspaper Opettaja, those with masters degrees are irritated that at the moment "just about anybody can call themselves a teacher". How Mr Gove must dream of having an equally compliant workforce.

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