5. huhtikuuta 2017

Elective study: International Education Professional Discussion

We have just completed a collaboration with students from TAMK and Staffordshire University (England).  The purpose the project was for Finnish and English undergraduate education students to learn about similarities, differences, and possible future developments in each other’s education systems.  We feel that we have a great deal about not only education in different countries but also broader aspects of society and culture as well.  

In the first meeting, the coordinators introduced us to each other, we discussed the timeline of the project and what task needed to be done by both parties. Initially, the meeting time was challenging because members of the Finnish team were in different time zones as shown on the map below, but our coordinators were able to reschedule meeting times to suit every participant. This shows how technology enables teaching and learning for participants across time zones and borders.

The following week, questions covering topics on school system and curriculum, early years education and special education needs, financing, staff, and assessment were presented by both of Finnish and English students. We discussed the correctness of the questions and our understanding of it, to be able to give the right answers. In the next meeting, we discussed the answers. The answers were sourced online and checked by the coordinator before we presented it. We also had the opportunity to ask more questions for clarification on what we did not understand or needed to know more about. The international project lasted three weeks, then we worked on our conclusions in the Finnish team. The summary of what we learned is below.

In Finland, the government, education ministry and society trust the teachers to do their work in a very independent way, having professional autonomy to facilitate learners’ development throughout the compulsory school system. All teachers must have a Masters degree, so they trusted to assess the students properly. The students only have a standardised national test at the end of their compulsory schooling. 

In England, school teaching is an all-graduate profession but self-governing schools called free schools, academies and independent (fee paying) schools are allowed to employ teachers without an additional teaching qualification. Teachers may have less professional autonomy than in Finland.  Their students who are regularly assessed through nationally based tests which are used to measure the quality of teaching, schools and the overall system. From these, schools are positioned within league tables based on the results. Teachers have to report and review with the head-teacher in case the results are not good and a decline in standards may lead to a visit by Ofsted, who are responsible for measuring quality within schools and nurseries. 

There is a relevant difference between the two countries regarding the age of school starting age. In England, compulsory schooling starts at five, in Finland at seven. In Finland, there is a voluntary play-based preschool for younger children. In Finland from year 2016 on the preschool in kindergarten at the age of six is compulsory.

Regarding the curriculum, in England only local authority maintained schools have to follow the National Curriculum.  Other publically funded schools such as free school and academies do not have to follow this, but the emphasis on national testing leaves limited room for autonomy.  Fee paying schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum and also can chose how they participate in national assessments.  In England, the assessment focus is on mathematics and literacy.  However, many critics of the curriculum have argued that this has devalued the importance of creative subjects.  In Finland, the curriculum is children based, supporting first the well-being through comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness. 

The atmosphere of teaching is very different in the two compared countries. Finnish schools are less formal and more relaxed than in England. This cost-free, student-oriented system makes the social mobility much easier. However, it is fair to point out that the number of students in England is almost ten times more, so the system naturally cannot be the same.

There is a big difference between the countries regarding the finance of education. In Finland, there is no tuition fee for domestic and EU students. In England, there are also free elementary and secondary schools. However, the families can have their children educated in fee paying private schools at every education level.

Since the questions addressed different issues, and they are not directly comparable, we felt the best way to present our findings is to summarize them via a self-explanatory table for each country. We hope this way our report might be easily understandable and of benefit to those who would like to know more about the educational system of Finland and England.

School system primary (5-11) + secondary (11-18)
State funded schools
Free, inspected, subsidized, 93% students.
Independent sector schools
Fee-based, perceived as more “prestigious”, lower teacher-student ratio, self-regulated (no inspection by education authorities), tax exempted, 7% students.
Similarities and differences across the educative system in the Uk
Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England have their own education system and curricula.
Support for learners with higher capacities
Publicly funded Grammar schools, which are only available in some parts of the country and Independent (fee paying) schools may select students on the basis of academic ability.  The government is currently proposing to expand academic selection across England.
Due to OFSTED inspections schools some critics have found that some schools focus on ensuring weak students to fulfil minimum national standards.
Curriculum primary + secondary
Authorities responsible
Office for Standards in Education, Children Service and Skills, OFSTED
Official learning/teaching methods
In theory freedom to teach, though the government has explicitly stated its preference for teacher led, fact-based education. However, the national inspectorate, OFSTED, clearly state in their inspection handbook that they have no preferred teaching method.  Their inspections are informed by the National Curriculum Test results.  These are commonly known as SATs (by which they are known in America where the policy came from) 
Minimum subjects taught
Focus on mathematics, literacy, science.  Religious education (multi-faith) is also mandatory.  
Qualification for teaching in a primary/secondary school
Degree and minimum C grade in English, Maths and Science GCSEs test. Also Qualified Teacher Status is required in some cases.  Prior to training, teachers also have to complete maths and English skills tests to check that their skills are still current.

Primary school teachers are not required to have a subject specific degree but secondary school teachers usually have a degree in their specialist subject.
Teachers diversity in the school system
Female dominated in primary school
Diverse in secondary school
Teachers role on supporting learner’s value/principles building
Yes, via the so called Fundamental British Values: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance.
Areas of focus for teaching in early years education
Child well-being, education and teaching: joy of learning
Pedagogy within early years classrooms
Type of learning focused
Mandatory ratios of adults to children
1 adult for 7 children (3-6 years), 1 adult for 4 children (0-3 years)
Well-being support early years children
Yes, it includes all levels of education
Support Staff
Teaching volunteering opportunities
Yes. More info at: maailmanvaihto.fi
Classroom assistants training
Yes, It requires 1 year of teaching assistant vocational training (40 weeks)
Lunch-time supervisors
Yes, activity performed by classroom assistants
Special Education Needs Disability (SEND)
Training required
Basic teacher (5 years) training allows basic knowledge to deal with SEND children.
But to provide individual or group assistance to SEND children a teacher must “Specialize”, this training is voluntary and requires an extra course.
Diagnosis considerations
All starts noticing if something is wrong, then discussing with parents, then depending of the issue involving specialized teacher,  pediatrician and or a psychologist mainly.
SEN classification
In terms of support: General support, deeper support, special support.
In relation to children: talented, normal, weak, need special curriculum
Responsible for the delivery
Education provider, usually the concerned municipality
Children assessment
Yes, both formative and summative. BUT presented as a “learning experience”. No numerical assessment
How often it takes place
It is meant to take place daily verbally and numerically from 4-10.
Assessment moderation
No, the teacher remains as main responsible.
Assessment revision by principal
No needed, it is rather self-regulated by trust.

We learnt a lot about the 2 education systems, which are very different. The students of both parties were communicating fluently, and both students’ group were well prepared for each meeting; the information was very accurate and very completed. We would like to thank Jori and Duncan for their pedagogical approach for this course.  We really feel have learned and benefited from it.

Small Group work:
TAMK                                :  Adrian, Clement, Victor and Florence
Staffordshire University    :  Claire, Lisa, Myfanwy, Nazmeen, Rebecca and Samantha

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