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

John Hart:

Finnish education is rarely out of the news, whether it’s outstanding Pisa results, those same results slipping, the dropping of traditional subjects, not dropping subjects, or what makes Finnish teachers special.

I worked in England for two years as a teacher before moving to Finland eight years ago. My colleagues in the UK were supportive and the headteacher gave me subject leadership in my second year. I didn’t want to leave but the pull of home for my Finnish wife was too strong, so we upped sticks.

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.

No grammar schools, lots of play: the secrets of Europe’s top education system

Naysayers might argue that demographic differences between Finland and the UK (among other countries) make comparing education policies pointless. The population of Finland is homogeneous; just 5% of the population was born outside the country and don’t speak either Finnish or Swedish. This puts less strain on schools to plug linguistic and cultural gaps that exist elsewhere, but it only tells half the story. The economic homogeneity of the population, and the equity of society that is reflected in its schools, has contributed to Finland’s success. And this isn’t limited to education.