Should UK education emulate other countries?

What are the advantages that other nations enjoy in their education systems? Is the UK trailing behind?

It has long been debated, across the world, which country is best for education and what processes lie behind this judgement.

Education is considered to be a human right, and plays a key role in human, social and economic development. A ranking on World Population Review shows the best countries for education based on a perception-based, global survey, which uses variety of scores from three, equally-weighted attributes: a well-developed public education system, whether respondents would consider attending university there and whether the country provides top-quality education.

As of 2018, the top ten countries based on these education rankings are:

  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • France
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Japan
  • The Netherlands

While it’s comforting that the UK scores highly overall on this scale, it has failed to find its way onto top-five shortlists for ‘countries by primary school completion rate’ or ‘countries by secondary school completion rate’, ‘countries by high school completion rate’.

With school business managers snowed under with work, teachers struggling as recruitment slows to a crawl and smaller schools closing or being swallowed up, it’s no wonder we find ourselves looking abroad for better methods of running our schools.

Last month, the news hit that Labour has plans to emulate Finland’s school system. Apparently, the Finnish education system is the envy of the world, thanks to a focus on staff training which concentrates on pupil wellbeing. Pupils don’t even have national exams until they are 18! There are no league tables, no private schools and no Ofsted-style inspections. Labour has been vocal about its desire to scrap Ofsted entirely, and recently opened fire on fee-paying independent schools.

In 2013 Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg visited Eton College. “It was like going 200 years backwards in time,” he said. “I remember thinking, while walking the corridors of Eton and watching students there, that even if I had a chance to enrol my own kids to that school I would probably say ‘No, thank you’.” By comparison, the Finnish education system is so popular that school staff and other education leaders all over the world visit each year – so much so that, now, international visits are strictly regulated, and cost up to 1,240 euros.

So how can the UK hope to compare? Is scrapping Ofsted and private schools the answer?

According to Sahlberg, it would be better for Labour to focus on strengthening the existing state sector in England. “You can’t go to Finland and cherry-pick the things that seem to be interesting and say, ‘We want to do like Finland is doing’,” he said. “It’s much more complicated than that.”

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