Schools urged to face facts over Finns’ superior results

Last December, the Pisa ratings testing 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries showed Scotlands schools recording their worst ever performance. Picture: John Devlin
Last December, the Pisa ratings testing 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries showed Scotlands schools recording their worst ever performance. Picture: John Devlin
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Scotland should look at ending its “love affair” with Nordic education and deal with what is actually happening in this country, the leader of Scotland’s largest teaching union has said.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of EIS Scotland, said while countries such as Finland are fêted for their innovations and international league table results, Scottish teachers have to work within a financially stretched education system.

Last December, the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) ratings, testing 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries, showed Scotland’s schools recording their worst ever performance, while a number of other countries, including Finland, had higher scores in science, maths and reading.

Flanagan said teachers in Nordic countries were operating within a more egalitarian society.

“Around two-thirds of children in Finland will be identified as having additional support needs, while in Scotland the number is one in four.

“The difference is that in Finland teachers will respond to particular challenges at particular times, for example, if a child’s parents are going through a divorce.

“In Scotland that doesn’t happen. Most teachers, other than pastoral care teachers, wouldn’t know what’s happening in a pupil’s life and it is just chance if the child works their way through it. Yet we talk about being ‘child-centred’,” said Flanagan.

“That’s the danger with taking something from another system, and making comparisons with them, when we’re not getting the resources to give children equal chances in education. Schools can’t overcome the impact of poverty,” he added.

“Previously the narrative in Scotland was that the money was curtailed by the Westminster Government. But now the mechanisms are in place for addressing it, so, raise the tax.”

Flanagan added: “The [latest] OECD report did in fact make lots of positive comments about the resilience and confidence of pupils in Scotland’s education system. There are loads of reasons why some countries are doing better, such as coaching ahead of exams and Shanghai excluding the lowest performing children. When you start to pull it apart the findings are much more nuanced.”

Finland’s education ambassador Pasi Sahlberg, has warned Scots against “chasing the Northern Lights”. “I don’t think that education alone can ever close the gap. It can never deliver complete equity or equality. A part of me says no matter how great the national curriculum, it can only do so much. There are always things that the curriculum cannot do,” said Sahlberg.