Lessons learned from fact-finding mission to Finland

News / Fri 24th Oct 2014 at 09:03am

TWO headteachers took a trip to Finland – known for excellence in education – and returned confident their Harlow schools have the best teachers in the world.

Helena Mills, headteacher of Burnt Mill Academy, and Marios Solomonides, head of school at Freshwaters Primary Academy, were surprised to find although the country achieves impressive results, they did not pick up any tips to improve their own schools.

With children attending the same school between the ages of seven and 15 in Finland, the heads were keen to see that in action with the launch of their Burnt Mill Co-operative Academy Trust seeing closer links between the primaries and secondary in Harlow.

Ms Mills, CEO of the Trust, said: “Finland is meant to have the best education system and the brightest kids, but I came away thinking our teachers are probably some of the best in the world. We just need to continue doing exactly what we are doing.

“In Finland, they have excellent teacher training, as we do, but then teachers are left to their own devices. You can be 24 years in the classroom and yet nobody observes your work or gives you ideas for improvement. Here, we have weekly sessions where teachers are given ideas to improve and we observe each other on a regular basis. We don’t believe completing your teacher training makes you a finished product.”

Teachers from Finland were so intrigued to hear about the extensive professional development at the Harlow schools, they are going to return the visit.

One thing the Harlow heads did confirm during their trip was the importance of modern foreign languages being taught at the earliest age in primary.

Ms Mills said: “Their skills in languages in Finland are pretty high level. Their children could confidently talk to us in English about their other subjects in detail. That was really powerful. The main thing we came away with was the decision we need to be teaching Spanish early in our BMAT primaries. Developing those language skills will mean they can achieve our goal of performing on the world stage.”

The trip was organised by the Association of Secondary Headteachers in Essex (ASHE) and included a small group of headteachers from around the county.

Mr Solomonides said: “I expected to see rigorous, focused teaching in Finland with innovative teaching strategies. I thought I would see more challenging lessons with pupils making lots of progress in class.

“I left feeling quite confused because I didn’t see anything that made me say ‘wow’; I couldn’t see how they achieve so highly. With results like theirs, they must be doing something right!”

Both were impressed with the amount of trust given to teachers in Finland. Without any observations, teachers are allowed to do their own research and try out new techniques.

Ms Mills said: “They really trust their teachers in Finland. At Burnt Mill, we are also not prescriptive about what our teachers do in the classroom – we expect outstanding progress, but they are skilled enough to achieve that however they want. That is why we have inspirational teachers the children will remember.

“But, generally in this country, we are trying to control teachers too much.”

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