A comparative essay on teacher education in England and Finland.
This essay will compare and contrast teacher education (TE) for children aged 5-18 in England and Finland. It seeks to identify similarities between the two countries in their training of teachers and highlight differences between the two countries’ TE systems. The essay will provide contextual information such as the TE routes available, length of training, where training takes place and entry qualifications. The essay will explore specific elements of TE in more detail. These elements include practical placement opportunities for trainees, methods of assessment and curriculum content for TE. The essay will also address how England and Finland’s educational ethos inform TE and, in turn, the teaching body themselves. The essay will also explore employability prospects of teachers, with reference to the impact the quality of TE has on teacher attrition and retention. Finally, it will address continuing education of teachers after qualification and the impact this has on the quality of teaching and education as a whole. Throughout the essay, aspects of TE and practice will be critically evaluated to reach a final conclusion on the aspects of each country which contribute most significantly to the success, or lack thereof, of their education systems.
England and Finland are two European countries with histories of above-average performance in international tests like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018). Finland gained an international reputation for the strength of its education system following their unexpected rise to the top of the PISA tables in 2000 (Davis et al., 2020, p.319). England and Finland’s successes are attributed to differing reasons; on one hand, England has imposed a strong focus on its assessment of children and taken influence from countries such as China and Singapore who sit at the top of the PISA table (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2018; Gilroy, 2014, p.626). Alternatively, Finland’s success was less intentional and occurred more as a bi-product of their educational ethos and the strength of their TE system (Davis et al., 2020, p.319; Yee et al., 2018, p.139).
Compulsory education in England begins at age four (Gov.UK, 2020a). Children attend primary education until Year Six, where they turn 11, after which they move into secondary education which is compulsory until age 16 (Gov.UK, 2020b). Afterwards, children are required to attend further education until 18 years old – this can take place at schools, colleges, or also in the form of apprenticeships (Gov.UK, 2020b) In comparison, compulsory education in Finland begins at seven years old, where children undertake basic education, broken up into grades 1-9, finishing when they are 16 years old (Paronen and Lappi, 2018, p.16). Like in England, Finnish children then have the opportunity to complete general or vocational upper secondary education, which can provide them with the qualifications necessary for further study at University or to enter their chosen profession (Baskan et al, 2013, pp.1073-1074).
England has a diverse Initial Teacher Training (ITT) system which leads trainees to achieving Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) (Beauchamp et al., 2015, p.155; Carter, 2015, p.18). Student teachers can train on undergraduate (usually 3 or 4 years) or postgraduate (1 year) courses which can be either based at a Higher Education Institution (HEI) or in a school (Gilroy, 2014, p.630; Carter, 2015, p.18). Undergraduate courses based at HEI are typically comprised of periods of lecturing on pedagogical theory and subject knowledge, interspersed with shorter periods of practical placement in school, spread across the three or four years of their course (Hodgson, 2014, p.7). Contrastingly, postgraduate training courses involve longer and more intense periods of school placement, with trainees on school-based programmes such as Teach First and School Direct spending a majority of their training year in the classroom (Hodgson, 2014, p.7; Carter, 2015, p.18). In England, a majority of trainees study on postgraduate routes (Beauchamp et al., 2015, p.155; Gray, 2013, p.25). There are benefits to each of England’s ITT routes – undergraduate courses, for example, enable teachers to train over an extended period of time, whilst postgraduate courses are shorter and enable those who have already completed an undergraduate degree to train to teach (Hodgson, 2014, p.8).
In Finland, teaching is a prestigious, high-status profession; this is said to be partly a result of the strength of its teacher education system as well as Finland’s educational ethos (Davis et al., 2020, p.319; Yee et al., 2018, p.139). Finnish teachers are highly qualified, requiring a masters-level qualification to teach (Yee et al., 2018, p.151). ITT programmes are offered by eight universities in Finland, each of which is linked to their own training school (Malinen et al., 2012, p.569; Darlington-Hammond, 2017, p.299). Finnish ITT degrees are five years long, which includes three years of undergraduate-level study, followed by two years of masters-level study (Saloviita and Tolvanen, 2017, p.213). The exact ratio of pedagogical to subject knowledge input is dependent on the phase of basic education (for children aged 7-16 years) the trainee teachers wish to teach (Paronen and Lappi, 2018, p.16). Those teaching grades 1-6 (equivalent to primary) focus on educational studies in their masters, those teaching in grades 7-9 (equivalent to secondary) specialise in their chosen subject area instead (Paronen and Lappi, 2018, p.16). Compared to England, the length of ITT in Finland means trainees have more time to learn additional pedagogical theories and subject knowledge required for effective teaching (Gray, 2013, p.25).
Finland are admired for their educational ethos, which focuses on the holistic development and well-being of the child and is much less assessment-driven than other countries such as England and, more commonly, South Asian nations such as China and South Korea (Davis et al., 2020, p.319). Children in Finland experience a very active education, with teachers making regular use of their outdoor environments (Sjoblom and Svens, 2019, p.301). In contrast, education in England has been more typically classroom-based with children spending more time sat at tables to learn; initiatives such as the ‘daily mile’ and forest schools have only been introduced to classrooms fairly recently in an attempt to engage children in more cross-curricular physical activity and environments outside of the classroom. (Nawaz and Blackwell, 2014, pp.498-499). TE has evolved along with these changes in pedagogical approach and encourages trainees to experiment with learning outside the classroom (Waite, 2011, pp.67-68).
England’s educational ethos is more assessment-focused than Finland’s (Gilroy, 2014, p.626). Whilst many schools and teachers endeavour to focus on the holistic development and wellbeing of children, this is perhaps hindered by governmental pressures to meet assessment targets (Ofsted, 2019, p.27). There are currently four statutory assessment points in primary education (Year 1 phonics screener, Year 2 SATs, Year 4 Times Tables test, Year 6 SATs) and Year 11 GCSEs (or equivalent) in secondary education (Department for Education (DfE), 2017). Such regular formal testing can place immense pressure on both children and teachers and schools are ranked against each other for their academic achievements (Ofsted 2019, p.27). This is less of a concern in Finish education which is built upon an ethos of respect and autonomy – there is only one assessment point at the end of Finnish basic education, and teachers have the freedom to select their own methods of assessment of children’s progress up until that point (Baskan et al., 2013, p.1073; Yee et al., 2018, p.141). The result is a teaching body who feel respected by the state and experience less of the workplace pressures that teachers and trainees in England may experience (Beauchamp et al., 2015, p.163).