In Finland no targets = higher quality provision and attainment

Finlands education system is one of the best in the world, and it does not rely on tests, targets and league tables.  Could this show us a way forward across the public sector?

An interesting article  caught my eye a while ago and got me thinking about the’target’ culture that dominates the public sector.  Apparently Finland’s education system rejects targets and is the best in the world, although this has not always been the case.  Following failure in the 1970’s the whole system was reformed, and the reforms seemed to have worked, and even cost less than when the education system was failing.

Could we learn from this? So what did they do? Introduce additional tests, targets, performance indicators, outcomes, privatise the system to increase competition and consumer choice to drive up educational standards? Well, no, just the opposite really.

Firstly, there are no league tables in Finland, the main driver of education policy is a vision focused on ensuring all children have access to the same opportunities to learn in a good school, wherever the child lives and regardless of the childs economic background.  Cooperation between schools rather than competition underpins this ethos, as does a belief in the ability of individual schools to achieve this without centralised targets from government or regulation.

Teachers/academics are valued as professionals and as such are trusted to assess children in their classroom using independent tests they create themselves.  If they do not feel it is beneficial to the childs well-being they do not test the child. Inclusion in tests are determined by whether it positively affects the students learning, not whether it increases students scores or meets a performance indicator.

The bit that really caught my imaginaton when reading was when the interviewer asked about the accountability of the teachers and those who run the school. ‘Salberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish” later on suggesting “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted” Whether this is true or not I do not know as I do not speak Finnish, however, it is an interesting notion that by acting responsibly accountability is not an issue.  In Finland teaching professionals are afforded prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility, which they evidently fulfil with gusto.  So the question of ‘accountability’ seldom arises. If it does it is dealt with by the head locally. And believe it or not but all of this has been achieved by not privatising education, that’s right not privatising education.

There are no private schools in Finland, only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland but even these are publicly funded. None are allowed to charge fees, and there are no private universities either.  The focus in public sector provision of education is on equity and shared responsibility, not choice and competition.

Hmm can we learn anything from this? At present public trust and confidence in the public sector must be at an all time low, however, to regain trust we need to see real change, a change in direction that is new and imaginative.  One of Finlands key success factors has been a recognition that learning from past experiences can build a better future.  Can we do the same?

About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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