Finnish primary school visit 3

Yesterday saw myself and my college Miles Opie travelling further south, to visit a group of four of our students who are undertaking their teaching practice in a Finnish city; a noticeably more urban setting than our previous school visits.

The physical environment in this school was very similar to that in the schools we have already visited; light, spacious classrooms, a building in immaculate condition, and even the same furniture consisting of individual desks for children. It was perhaps a little more spacious than the other schools we have visited, but had the similarly well equipped specialist spaces for activities such as craft and sports.

The atmosphere was a little different in this school. There was a similar quality to the interactions between staff and students, and similarly relaxed relationships. We were privileged to sit in on an assembly which was led by a local Lutheran priest, and it was notable how the movement of children into and out of this activity was much less controlled than in a UK school. At the end the entire hall of about 100 children simply stood up and wondered out, some back to classes, some out to play. There were all chatting, but only in the relaxed way a group of adults would on such an occasion, and there was no instructions from adults to get into lines, wait their turn or walk in silence. The children seemed to respond to this by not creating any issues, and moving around the building in a completely appropriate manner. Another example of the high levels of trust and lack of control placed on children in the schools I have visited, conditions which they seem to respond to by conducting themselves very responsibly. One fact which did help with this was the amount of space; wide corridors, doorways and staircases allowed large numbers of children to circulate without causing bottlenecks.

This school was noticeably more urban, and had a much greater mix of ethnicities, and according to our guides also much great mix of economic and social backgrounds. In the assembly I noted roughly ten percent of the children were from backgrounds not indigenously Finnish. Apparently many of these children have recently arrived from Somalia, and the school supports such new arrivals with intensive catch up classes in Finnish and English to allow them to get up to speed with the language and integrate into the main classes as quickly as possible.

This is something I am still trying to unpick, but in a number of my conversations I have come across quite a different approach to differentiation than in many UK schools. Rather than dividing children by ‘ability’ and streaming, setting, or differentiated groups by task, the ethos seems to be that all children should be able to participate with the whole class and move forward together. There is a strong ethos of the teacher knowing each child and supporting and helping them in a personalised way, but not providing a different curriculum or experience for them. Where this is not possible, the approach seems to be targeted interventions to allow the child to ‘catch up’ as quickly as possible, and then be able to join the rest of their class and move forward together.

I may be misrepresenting this, please comment if you feel I am, but it is something that is obviously conceptualised differently to many UK schools and I am trying to make sense of it.

On approaching this school our students were struck by the lack of fencing, with only a two foot high wall to mark the perimeter of the playground and the school. However, once inside the school we noticed there was a security station with a security guard monitoring CCTV. There has been a school shooting recently in Finland and this has obviously caused a shift in security for schools, with the school yesterday being locked when it would normally be open to allow members of the community to come in.

In summary this school was very similar in some ways, and very different in others to the previous two schools, as might be expected when comparing rural and urban schools. I would say in this school there was much more of a variation from class to class in terms of organisation and teaching methods, with some classes engaged in active group learning as you would be likely to see in UK schools, and others having more traditional teacher led lessons.

I also sat in on a lesson in this school, which I will post about soon…

Posts from my trip to Finland are all available here.

Related posts:

Lessons observed in Finland
Second Finnish Primary School Visit
In discussion with a Finnish primary head teacher
 

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