Straightened sets

17th October 2008 at 01:00

Peter Leyland's Soap Box piece on the cruelty of setting (TES Magazine, October 10) repeats a common misconception: that schools in Finland have abolished setting. In fact, about a fifth of Finnish pupils are taught in separate special needs classes - for every subject and right from the early years.

Those with major learning difficulties are often taught in separate institutions; special needs classes in ordinary schools are largely for those nearer average ability but struggling with formal learning or behaviour.

More interesting is the fact that Finland does very well by its weakest learners. This is attributable to its policy of early and widespread streaming and the enlightened way it is implemented. Special needs classes are taught by teachers more highly trained than the average for Finland: six years' training instead of five. They have even fewer pupils than other classes - about 10 instead of 20. They cover the same syllabus, but the understanding is that pupils in these classes simply need more time and support to reach the standard learning goals. And children move in and out of special needs classes as they develop.

Helen Joyce, Cambridge.

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