The final visit of the ERASMUS+ funded PACE project, which looks at Partnerships in Arts and Cultural Education, took us to Espoo in Finland. Representatives from Leeds included teachers and headteachers from Beechwood Primary and Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, together with an officer from the council’s Artforms service.
With Finland topping the PISA rankings in Europe for educational attainment, our teachers and head teachers were keen to learn about the Finnish education system. We were lucky enough to spend a lot of time in different schools throughout Espoo, catering for children of different ages and abilities, from kindergartens through to middle schools and classes catering for children with special needs. The approach to education is very different, with children not starting formal school until the age of 7 and no formal testing until the age of 18.
The national curriculum is based on a set of 7 broad based competences which can be seen in the diagram below. Local authorities then have the opportunity to focus on certain competences according to local needs and priorities. In the case of Espoo which is a well developed tech and innovation centre in Finland, but which places a strong emphasis on natural environment, it has selected building a sustainable future, ICT competence and thinking skills as its focus.
We also learned that all teachers are highly skilled professional with a masters degree, who are respected by the children, the parents and the government and are valued highly in Finnish society.
What struck us most was the amount of trust and permission given to the students to learn in a way that suited them best. The schools were full of light and space, with break-out areas dotted throughout the schools, where children were trusted to work in small groups, or alone, to meet their individual styles of learning.
The Aurora school is a fantastic example of Finnish architecture, with brilliant facilities and resources for the teaching of art, music and craft.
Our final session took place at the WeeGee centre which includes Espoo’s Museum of Modern Art. The view through the window of a yellow Futuro house, designed by architect Matti Suuronen, provided plenty of inspiration for our disussions on future cooperation between Espoo and Leeds.
Our thanks go to our hosts, Annika and Kaisa for their hard work in putting together a programme which met the learning objectives of a diverse group of visitors. We would also like to extend a special thank you to the wonderful teacher Kaija Kuivanen from Aurora School for giving us a warm Finnish send-off on the final evening with a traditional Finnish meal at her house. It was clear to all of us why Finland has been voted the happiest nation!