The big lesson from the world’s best school system? Trust your teachers

The Guardian reports that Finnish education is rarely out of the news, whether it’s outstanding Pisa results, those same results slipping, the dropping of traditional subjectsnot dropping subjects, or what makes Finnish teachers special.

Finland’s education policies have been highly praised and the country has started to export its model around the world. Much of what has been written about this has, understandably, focused on policy, but it’s somewhat reductive to think in such narrow terms. The ethos of the schools and the society in which the policies are implemented are equally important.

Finland has the lowest wage inequality of any country in the EU, while the UK has the highest (pdf). Child poverty in the UK is double that of Finland (pdf). If legislators in the UK want to improve educational outcomes for all, they should start by closing those gaps rather than introducing more grammar schools. As it happens, getting rid of the grammar school equivalent and introducing a truly comprehensive system is said to have played a large part in the improvement of Finnish education.

Much is made of the stringent selection of candidate teachers and the world-class training successful applicants receive – and rightly so. But while getting into the profession is highly competitive, the conditions teachers work under here and the ethos of the schools, also have a huge bearing on allowing teachers and their students to flourish. And this is all down to trust.

Teachers in Finland are given a great deal of responsibility and are allowed unfettered flexibility in what and how they teach. Performance isn’t observed and graded. Instead, annual development discussions with school leaders provide feedback on a teacher’s own assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. Detailed plans are not expected either. The notion that a teacher should provide evidence to prove what they’ve done is ludicrous. Each teacher marks work when it benefits them or the student, but not for anyone else’s sake.

Teachers enter the profession full of drive and enthusiasm. They are in the job for the right reasons. We must trust them and keep that drive alive. To do this, we must give them the tools and time they need to recover after a hard day at work. If teachers aren’t encumbered by tasks that don’t benefit them or their students, they’ll be able to do a better job.

What society in Finland does – perhaps better than anywhere else – is look after, value and trust each other. If visitors, legislators and commentators could take one lesson away from the Finnish education system, it should be that one.

Read more The big lesson from the world’s best school system? Trust your teachers

Do you agree? Could your school trust you? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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