Finns come bottom of an educational league table at last

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

After tireless investigation, Department for Education apparatchiks have at last found an educational league table that those bothersome Finns come bottom in.   It's in a recent report from Unicef: Child well-being in rich countries: a comparative overview; Innocenti Report Card 11.

Fig 3.1a (page 17) shows comparative pre-school enrolment rates, and Finland props up the table at ~73%.  The UK is at 96%, vaguely near the top.  Huzzar!   How pleased Mr Gove must have been when he was told all this.  Awkwardly, however, the UK is a dismal bottom of Fig 3.1b: participation in further education.  It also does not do well in Fig 3.2 (educational achievement by age 15) where it is placed only 11th, with guess who at the top: those ****** Finns again.

All is not what it seems, of course, and Box 2 in the report [The Finland Paradox] is worth quoting in full to show the methodological issues:

The fact that Finland has the lowest rate of preschool enrolment (Figure 3.1a) and the highest level of educational achievement (Figure 3.2) might seem to contradict the idea that preschool education is important to success at school.  But it is perhaps better interpreted as a warning of the care needed in making cross-national comparisons.

First, compulsory schooling in Finland does not begin until a child is seven years old, which means that the age group on which the preschool enrolment rate is based is the child population between the ages of four and seven (in many other countries it is the child population between the ages of four and five).  If the preschool enrolment rate were to be re-defined as ‘the percentage of children enrolled in preschool education in the year before compulsory schooling begins’ then Finland would rank near the top of the table with an enrolment rate approaching 100%.

Second, preschool enrolment rates say nothing about the quality of the education received.  If it were possible to measure quality, then it is likely that Finland would again be found towards the top of the table.  This prediction is based on the fact that Finland spends considerably more than the OECD average on early years care and education, has exceptionally high minimum qualification requirements for preschool teaching staff, and the highest standards of staff-to-child ratios of any advanced economy (1:4 for children under three years old, and 1:7 for children between 4 and 6).

Most commentators on Finland’s outstanding record of educational achievement cite the quality of the country’s early years education.

Indeed.  Judging by recent comments, Ofsted understands this.   I whiled away a train journey reading this report; highly recommended – and not just for civil servants looking for better news for their masters.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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