Gove should look to Finland for a Master class

Michael Gove has hopped around the globe to find the ideas and the justification for his education policies; Singapore, Sweden, the U.S, Canada and Finland regularly pop up as the inspiration for everything from free schools to curriculum reform.

Of course, it would be wrong-headed to close our eyes to innovation, whether it’s in a school next door or a classroom in Kuala Lumpur.

Equally, there are difficulties with directly importing policies from overseas, not least because of the social, economic, cultural and historical differences from one country to the next.

As such, transplanting ideas is not simply a case of ‘cut and paste’, much like the wine that tastes sumptuous when gazing at the Adriatic breathing in lemon-scented air, which turns to vinegar when you’re back in blighty watching Eastender and tucking into a chicken chow mein.

With wine and with policy, you have to take great care with what goes in the suitcase for the homeward flight.

It is hard to know what to pick. The easiest option is to establish your point of view and merely scour the globe for ideas that closely match your own preconceptions. This, however, lacks objectivity. It rules out the genuinely innovative – you look but you don’t really see.

Looking at Gove’s plans, it’s not clear whether this really has been a genuine attempt to scrutinise our friends and competitors and to match – or exceed – the best of what they do (have a read of this excellent article on the school system in Finland, a country often cited by Gove as as an inspiration, not least because they regularly appear top of international league tables – make a tally of ‘similarities’ and ‘differences’ and see which comes on top).

Hence, we choose to import the concept of free schools from the U.S and Sweden, but ignore the fact that Finland has no equivalent. And, where a child aged seven in Helsinki will just be starting school after a play-based introduction to learning, in England we have decided to introduce a reading test at the age of six to see whether they can read not just simple words, but also non-words like ‘koob’ or ‘zort’. Madness!

Yet, staring us in the face, there is one area where we should replicate our Finnish friends precisely; it would make a huge, tangible difference to the quality of education in this country. And it’s quite simple: teachers should be qualified to Masters level.

Imagine this: every teacher undertaking further to study to improve their classroom practice; every teacher familiar with the latest research (and knowing themselves what the best schools in Alberta and Stockholm are up to); every teacher developing specialist knowledge and applying it in their classrooms; every teacher understanding research methods and continually investigating ways to improve what they do.

Imagine the potential for improving the quality of teaching – and try to imagine the difference this would make to children’s learning.

This would not need radical upheaval of school governance, nor (relatively speaking) bags of cash. There would certainly be no need for a shiny new Education Bill. But maybe that’s why it’s been ignored by Michael Gove – the best ideas don’t always catch the eye, particularly when you aren’t looking closely enough.

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4 Comments

Filed under Michael Gove, Policy, Politics - general, Schools

4 responses to “Gove should look to Finland for a Master class

  1. Great post and v interesting. A couple of rhetorical questions: how can you have excellent knowledge on latest research when teachers’ work-life balance is already stretched with the day to day? Why would Masters capable person join a Masters level profession when the wage is comparatively low and getting lower? With school budgets tight and getting tighter, how can schools provide extra non-contact time allow teachers to conduct research and improve knowledge?

    Just some thoughts that Mr Gove might like to consider should he find his way here.

    Great article, btw.

    • Thanks for commenting – excellent questions in return. There’s not an easy answer, particularly as budgets are tightening, but I do wonder whether schools could make better use of their exciting INSET time. In my experience, INSET can be quite uninspiring and is too often about compliance – i.e. being told what to do to meet Ofsted/Dfe/other criteria. This has its place, but is pretty limiting in terms of professional development. Imagine if these sessions were held as part of a research-led Masters course, with teachers sharing ideas, developing their own projects, analysing data, reading and reviewing relevant literature. That’d free up an awful lot of time and not have huge cost implications. As for teachers’ pay not keeping up with other Masters level professions – good point!

  2. Joy thompson

    I very much agree that post graduate qualifications for teachers would be a very positive way forward. the most innovative and inspiring teachers I ever worked with were masters qualified or above. It made for some enlightening and interesting staff room conversations. Frustratingly there seems to be an aversion among many teaching staff and management to appreciate such knowledge and in some cases downright dismissal. I’ll never forget a deputy head telling me that the latest international research (Alexander’s Cambridge Review) was ‘just someone’s opinion’! Gasp!

    • You are right – there can be an aversion to this approach in some schools. I think this, in part, comes from the mythology of what makes a ‘great teacher’ – the elusive character born with the ability to inspire and hold a class in perpetual wonderment (think Dead Poets Society!). Bizarrely, for a profession concerned with learning, too many people question the fruits of academic study and research, preferring to trust in hunches and feelings alone.

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