How Sydney’s schools can be more like Finland’s
NSW schools should learn from Finland and judge schools on broader measures than NAPLAN, the secondary principals’ council says.
The President of the body, Chris Presland, has slammed the “political interest and gnashing of teeth” around plateauing NAPLAN results.
What’s so good about Finland?
We’re always hearing Finland has the best quality of life, the best this, the best that….
He is calling for the reporting of student and parent satisfaction rates with schools alongside their standard test results, as well as consideration of more radical ideas borrowed from Finland, such as less homework and shorter school hours.
“Finnish children have the lightest homework load of any industrialised nation and shorter school hours than many Australian children, however there is strong value placed on the idea of human capital and a broad understanding of student and school success,” the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council president Chris Presland said.
Finland consistently lands in the top five in the international PISA rankings, which every three years test the maths, science and reading performance of about half a million 15-year-old students in 60 countries.
Australia is usually in the top 20, but the OECD’s education tsar has warned we are slipping down the rankings. The latest PISA results will be released in December.
The Scandinavian country’s magic formula for success is a source of much interest in other school systems.
Mr Presland says Finland’s radically different approach shows there is value in “a more holistic understanding of educational success”.
“One really interesting thing about Finland I heard at a conference there last year came from the equivalent of their [department] secretary,” Mr Presland said. “He said ‘in Finland, the best school is the closest school.’
“That’s a really interesting thing. They don’t have this private public divide. They have virtually no private schools and don’t fund independent schools at all. They try to make sure that every school, the local school, has everything that it needs.”
Somewhat ironically, says Mr Presland, the Finns consistently achieve top rankings in the standard tests by applying a much wider set of parameters, including strong emphasis on equality of access and even distribution of learning outcomes throughout different schools.
“They have very little focus on external test data, which is one of the great ironies,” he says. “They’re barely interested in their PISA results and they’re killing everyone.”
Mr Presland said the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, the peak body for public high school principals, believed non-cognitive measures of school success such as parent or student satisfaction rates should be published with NAPLAN results, which he likened to judging a batsman’s performance in a Test by the runs they score in a single over.
“Even a measure like attendance rates, on the most basic level, would give you an indication if students are engaged and enjoying school, and that’s far more important in terms of what schools are trying to do overall,” he said.
Mr Presland rejected federal education minister Simon Birmingham’s criticism of Australian schools’ “plateauing” NAPLAN results.
Mr Birmingham said the results were “not good enough” because there had been a boost to education funding in the past two years.
“I think anyone serious in the game knows that’s a silly comment. It’s a politically driven statement attempting to justify the non-implementation of the Gonski reforms,” Mr Presland said.
“Nobody is actually saying that just throwing money at a problem solves it, that’s the minister’s line.
“You need sensible use of the money, quality leadership and quality teaching.. and they cost resources.”