What UK teachers can learn from Finland, where children have one of the world's best educations

Figures from the NUT showing one in 10 teachers are deserting the profession

Rebecca Flood
Tuesday 20 September 2016 18:39 BST

With no inspections, tests, uniforms or fees, Finland’s education system is ranked among the best in the world.

Finland - as well as the Nordic region as a whole - is famed for its schools and staff, consistently topping global league tables for pupils’ performance.

But it is a very different story closer to home, with the teaching profession in the UK classed as at breaking point.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT), the biggest union, has called the current situation a “crisis”.

"Overworked and underpaid" has become a phrase synonymous with teaching, with figures from the NUT showing one in 10 are deserting the profession.

In contrast, Finland attracts and retains high-quality candidates by setting the bar high, ensuring only the best make the grade.

Now, a video highlighting key differences between the Finnish model and the US system pinpoints some of the issues the British school system also grapples with.

In Finland, the profession commands a great deal of respect, with applicants needing a master’s degree to teach, in line with doctors and lawyers.

In the UK, last year saw a decrease in the number of qualified teachers and a rise of more than 2,000 teachers without a qualified teacher status.

Many are abandoning the rigours of teaching for more lucrative jobs, fewer hours and ultimately more respect.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, said: “This report [NFER] confirms that there is also a growing problem of teacher retention with a significant increase in the last year of those considering leaving.

“The price of policy implementation is being paid by teachers who are overworked and undervalued – and growing numbers are leaving.

“Retention is a problem of the system, which needs systematic and long-overdue attention at a national level.”

Finnish teachers are free to set their own curriculum, compared to schools in the UK – and US – which must adhere to the national curriculum.

The Government body Ofsted, which monitors the performance of schools and has the ability to place underperforming ones into ‘special measures’, is non-existent in Finland.

Whereas an Ofsted rating is so important house prices can fluctuate based on good or outstanding schools in the area, the Finnish government trusts its teachers to do their job without government oversight.

The Finnish National Board of Education outlined the country’s vision; equal opportunities for all students.

It said: “The focus in education is on learning rather than testing.

“There are no national tests for pupils in basic education in Finland.

“Instead, teachers are responsible for assessment in their respective subjects on the basis of the objectives included in the curriculum.”

With no national testing or school league tables to serve as a bench mark, the government is able to call in a sample of eight to 10 per cent of pupil’s work to monitor performance.

In comparison national testing for British pupils starts at age 11, with constant debate over whether children should be subjected to scrutiny at such a young age.

The idea has been mooted to link teachers’ pay with the performance of their pupils, something the NUT vehemently opposes.

Another divergence between the UK and Finland is the cost of education, with British students facing bills of £9,000 a year to go to university.

There are no tuition fees at any level of education for Finnish students, with necessities such as books, transport and meals provided for free.

And as there are no uniforms, Finnish parents are not forced to shell out on costly branded clothing for their children, an annual expense for their British counterparts.

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