More tests for 7 yr olds: do standardised tests, targets and league tables really improve learning? As Nicky Morgan indicates there could be tougher tests for 7 year olds, I wonder, do standardised tests really improve actual learning?

An interesting article , about the education system in Finland, caught my eye a while ago and got me thinking. Apparently Finland’s education system 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.

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 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?

2 thoughts on “More tests for 7 yr olds: do standardised tests, targets and league tables really improve learning?

  1. Hi Di

    You kindly commented on the comment I made on your recent article in the Guardian so I had the cheek to look you up and found this site. I so agree with your concerns about the reintroduction of tests for 7 year olds. My wife has just retired form a career in teaching and my daughter is currently training to join the profession so I have some insight into what has happened in education alongside my own experience of social work.

    Having retired I am trying to use some of the time I now have on my hands to reflect upon my own career and spend more time pursuing this in an academic sense rather than being ground down by the demands of practical work. I too had read that article about Finland which was very interesting.

    I was wondering if you had any recommendations about literature I could get hold of that looks at the past 30 years of public services and their development. Having spent so much of career raging about some of the developments (that’s not to say that there haven’t also been positive developments) and never having had the time to develop my ideas I am seeking to understand more before senility overtakes me.

    I would be most grateful for any suggestions you can make to me.

    Kind regards

    Andy West

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