A key characteristic of the Finnish education system is the focus on equity – indeed as with most of the Scandinavian countries social justice is a key feature of the underlying assumptions about the nature of professionalism. It is very important to distinguish between equality (All children are entitled to free education) and equity (But not all children go to good schools or are well taught.) This raises the issue of the leadership of learning as an essentially moral activity. The deployment of teachers, the response to special needs, the engagement with the gifted and talented and, crucially, securing consistency in the provision of high quality teaching and learning are perhaps best seen as moral issues – curriculum choice or issues of variation between classrooms are fundamentally ethically rooted concerns.
Fig.2 The factors influencing student learning
Three broad conclusions seem to emerge from the research analysing the factors influencing student learning. First, student background characteristics- especially social, economic and cultural background – frequently emerge as the most important source of variation in student achievement . . . Second, school-related factors, which are more open to policy influence, explain a smaller part of the variations in student learning than student characteristics. Third, among school level variables, the factors that are closest to student learning, such as teacher quality and classroom practices, tend to have the strongest impact on student achievement. (Pont et al 2008:33)
Finland’s success can be explained partly by the high levels of equity across society and partly by the equity across the education system – in essence there is virtually no variation in Finnish education; whereas in England:
The difference between a very effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is large. For example during one year with a very effective maths teacher, pupils gain 40% more in their learning than they would with a poorly performing maths teacher.
Bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would boost attainment and lead to a sharp improvement in the UK’s international ranking. In five years the UK’s rank among OECD countries could improve from 21st in reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in maths to as high as 12th.
Securing consistently high quality teaching is a key function of educational leadership.