If Gove likes Finland’s schools so much, why doesn’t he imitate them?
The new results from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are about to be published which compare the achievements of education systems across the globe. The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is expected to show the achievements of UK and Swedish schools falling behind, while Finnish schools are surging ahead. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will no doubt seek to make political capital out of this — as he has already done in a rather hypocritical fashion; he wants to hold Finnish schools up as a shining example to us all and a model we should imitate. But the slight problem is that his policies haven’t emulated the Finnish system at all, instead he’s disastrously copied the Swedish system which will be shown to be failing in the PISA.
Gove could do well to imitate Finnish schools but most of his policies have gone in an opposite direction to theirs; they do not have league tables, they do not test their children at 5 years old for reading, they do not encourage a Swedish-style “free” school system where schools compete with each other, they do not allow selection by ability, they do not put huge straight-jackets on the curriculum, and they value vocational education just as much as academic qualifications. They have a properly comprehensive local school system where the whole community attends the same school. Furthermore, their children do not have formal schooling until they are seven years of age. They also have a decent set of qualifications that offer choice and diversity; there’s nothing absurdly reductive like Gove’s English Baccalaureate. If we are going to sort out the mess in our system, we need to start by reforming our admissions’ system as a matter of urgency to bring us in line with the Finnish system; we must end academic selection and other forms of covert selection. It would be a relatively cost-effective thing to do. If Gove is going to bang on about the marvels of the Finnish system, why doesn’t he do something to make our system more like theirs?