The pros and cons of a British education
This month saw the release of the Primary School League Tables for state schools in England, but how does our education system compare to the rest of Europe?
The newly-released figures demonstrate an increase of 79% in children who have a basic understanding of English and mathematics from Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs).
The Guardian stated that there had being a rise in the amount of children making a considerable degree of progress between KS1 and 2 SATs (taken at ages seven and eleven respectively), with a rise of 87% of children going up at least two levels in maths and 89% in English in this period.
The Department for Education has released data indicating that there has been a significant increase in the number of pupils achieving Level 4 in English and Maths, with a rise in Mathematics from 45% in 1995 to 84% in 2012. There has also been a 36% rise in the number of pupils achieving Level 4 in English, which currently stands at 85% in 2012 compared to 49% in 1995.
The English education system differs slightly compared to other European countries, as demonstrated by the Principal Investigators and Research Leaders Survey (PIRLS), which analyses the performances of ten-year-olds in 40 countries in reading and comprehension.
The latest PIRLS survey from 2011 shows pupils’ reading levels in countries like Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. England achieved a point score of 552, the same as Ireland, while Denmark scored 554 and Finland achieved the highest of the European countries with a score of 568.
In Denmark, for example, children start formal education in the first grade from age six, whilst in Finland compulsory education starts at seven with optional preschool education beginning at age six.
Education specialist Eeva Hujala wrote: “Early education is the first and most critical stage of lifelong learning. Neurological research has shown that 90% of brain growth occurs during the first five years of life, and 85% of the nerve paths develop before starting school (at the age of seven in Finland).”
The Finnish education philosophy is to enable children to play and interact; the idea being that before the age of seven they learn best through play, so by the time they go to school they are keen to start learning.
After looking at the Finnish approach to education at a younger age, it is displaying better results in reading, comprehension and mathematics.
An Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) survey stated this year that the United Kingdom spends about 4% of its GDP on education, which is above OECD average with the average expenditure per student in Finland being $7,368 compared to the United Kingdom which spends $9,088.
Our European neighbours spend less on education with some countries achieving a higher level than the United Kingdom. For example Finland has a higher level in reading and comprehension. Pasi Sahlberg, a former maths and Physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, said in Smithsonian Magazine: “We prepare children to learn, how to learn, not how to take a test.”
Would the English system benefit from a more relaxed approach too, and would this result in higher levels in reading and comprehension? If a less standardised system of testing in the early years of a child’s education was adopted, concentrating on their levels of reading and writing instead of testing children during the early part of their education, then this could lead to children being less stressed during KS1. The adoption of the Finnish philosophy of just one standardised test in KS2 may lead to a rise in the level of reading and maths as well.