Thursday, April 12, 2012

Finland's Formula for School Success - how do we measure up?

Point 1: Early intervention
My response: This is something every good school does from day one. We do.  

Point 2: Schools are assigned a 'special education teacher' who helps identify and supports 'at risk' students.  
My response: Every school in New Zealand has some choice with their allocated staffing to try and balance classroom teaching needs and providing specific student support teachers but this is usually only 'affordable' on a part time basis. Depending on your decile rating a New Zealand school may have more or less 'discretionary' staffing to play with? Reading Recovery specialist teachers, Maths intervention? The government would argue that every school has enough staffing to do whatever it wants - the Principal just needs to increase class sizes to free up some staffing as class numbers don't matter - it's the quality of the teacher. I believe this needs a balance of numbers, a great teacher and adequate staffing for specific support - no matter what the decile!  

Point 3: "Every school in Finland has a student welfare team comprised of the principal, the special education teacher, the school nurse and psychologist, and the classroom teachers. The teams meet twice monthly to discuss the progress of students who are receiving extra help."  
My response: Our schools do not have a specialist team, outside the staff team itself. It is only accessible on an individual case-by-case situation. If an individual has been identified as needing further specialist intervention and support then the school is able to provide from within their own budget and staffing (which is linked to decile rankings - the higher the decile the lower the funding and staffing per child) then the student in question can be referred to the Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) team. They then decide if the level of need is appropriate for extra support or, if a case is deemed 'extreme enough', refer the individual to Group Special Education (GSE).

While the Finnish example is from a different cultural perspective than our New Zealand one you would hope that our policy developers / politicians are taking note of one of the best performing education systems in the OECD. Hopefully they are taking note of not just the American and the British systems, who do not enjoy the same level of achievements that we do! But, is it politically more attractive? Whatever they decide and whatever happens around funding and staffing levels I can still work on providing the environment where our teachers are able to have time to plan collaboratively, are supported with strategic and planned professional development and who know that their individual effort and passion all contribute to our wider staff and school culture that gives each and every one of our children the chance to enjoy personalised and customised opportunities to succeed. And that, is the main thing!

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