This Finnishing school strategy gets top marks

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 15, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so. . . baffling

“DAD,” whines James in predictable I’m-after-something mode, “can we move to Finland?” It’s 7pm and I’m struggling to decipher a “red alert” letter warning that next year’s maturing endowment policy will likely deliver �10,371.92 less than the bounty forecast by a “financial expert” in red braces back in 1986. I should, it advises, be putting plans in place to cover the shortfall. The question is: how? My favoured option is robbing the bank that arranged the loan in the first place and thought gambling on the stock market was a nailed-on way of paying off the mortgage a quarter of a century later. My natural inclination is to fob off my son. But I want to be a good father, so I suppress the sigh, put down the betting slip – for that’s what an endowment policy, like all financial punts, is; only in my naivete I didn’t realise it 24 years ago – and give him my full attention. My guess is that it’s something to do with football, since that occupies most of James’s thoughts, but Espoo, Jyv�skyl� and Tampere are hardly soccer giants on the world stage, so I could be wrong. I am. He’s been reading an article about how Finnish children spend the fewest hours in the classroom in the developed world but still achieve stonking results in science, reading and maths. Not the most academic lad, James quite fancies living in a country where he could spend less time in school than here. He does get me thinking. Education is bound to figure in the election campaign. The classroom has long been a battleground for parents’ votes, with governments red and blue unveiling initiative after initiative and generally proving unable to keep their fingers out of the pie. Our kids start young, endure regular testing, and see their teachers get mired in paperwork. Can we really say it pays off? In Finland, apparently, children start main school at the age of seven – the thinking being that they learn most effectively through early play and that by the time they begin school they’re keen and ready for formal education. Even more sensibly, primary and secondary departments are joined up, so kids don’t have to change schools, with all the potential disruption it brings. Education seems to do quite well, thank you, with this more relaxed less-is-more approach than our “headless chickens” strategy. Apparently, teaching is a well-regarded job in this Nordic country, with teachers respected and educational standards high. Not rocket science, is it? I look down at the red alert letter on the table, then at James. “Pack your gym bag and pencil case,” I cry. “We leave for Lahti tonight!”


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