|Teachers from Helsinki visit a school in Lewisham
It was exciting to see the professional interest of these Finnish teachers in our facilities, the curriculum, the children's work, the diversity of our pupil population. As trade unionists, they were also interested in our upcoming strike action and wished us well in our campaign.
Of course, there's a lot that we could be learning from these Finnish colleagues and their nation's consistently high-ranking in international league tables.
As I explained in a 2010 post on this blog ( http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/twisted-logic-of-goves-white-paper.html ), "Gove and Clegg claim that they want to learn from successful educational systems like Finland - but their educational and economic policies are in total contradiction to the relative social equality that Finland’s success has been based upon.
The Con-Dem’s want more Academies and Free Schools. However, more children succeed in Finland precisely because they have resisted privatisation and maintained a broadly comprehensive system.
Finland doesn’t have a witch-hunting Ofsted-style inspection regime nor does it publish the divisive school league tables that stigmatise schools in the most disadvantaged communities".
The colleagues from Helsinki gave me a booklet pointing out that Finnish children don't start formal schooling until the age of 7. In contrast, Gove wants to force children to be formally taught and tested at school from the age of 4. The booklet also points out that the summer holidays in Helsinki last 2-and-a-half months! How do they cope with all that supposed 'learning loss' Mr.Gove?
The response from our visitors when they were taken, first of all, into one of our IT rooms was telling. The school is rightly proud of its IT facilities but the teachers from Helsinki noticed something very different. One turned to me and said "you mean you have to teach 30 students all in this one room?" !
It would be good to think that the exchange of ideas was, nevertheless, two-way. The visitors were certainly impressed by the corridor displays - but rightly wanted to make sure there was support on hand to help teachers put them up!
Regrettably, as economic pressures mount across Europe, even previously more progressive countries will come under pressure to take the same neo-liberal road as Britain - as Sweden bears witness. It will be down to teacher trade unionists, in Finland, Britain and internationally, to maintain the struggle for a genuinely free, equal and comprehensive education system that meets the needs of all our children.
UPDATE ... and warning Russia not to learn from us!I couldn't join the thousands demonstrating in Manchester today (Sunday) because I had promised to stay in London for a hour-long Skpe interview with a meeting in Moscow of a newly-formed Russian independent teachers' union.
What was clear from the discussion was that Russian politicians were looking to the 'marketisation' of education in Britain, USA and elsewhere as a model for Russia to follow.
The introduction of a 'unified state exam' to compare schools sounded all too familiar. It was useful to be able to point to Finland as an example of a country where educational success had been acheived by avoiding the use of divisive 'league tables'.
Teacher workload and unpaid 'overtime' seemed to be a common issue between us while other questions, like the role of the Church in schools and the position of Headteachers in the Union are also ones that are debated within the NUT as well, although not as our primary concerns.