In 2000, even Finnish educators were surprised at the nation's emergence at the top of the OECD's PISA league tables. Unsurprisingly, Finland became the focus of extraordinary attention. For educational researchers and policy makers, Finland was a pre-eminent destination on the 'educational tourism' circuit. Newspaper articles ballooned in number and the word 'Finland' began to appear in speeches around the world, either as something to emulate, or simply to frighten people into action on improvement of education. But at heart of many of the 'lessons' from Finland, there lurked a profound error.

People looked at Finnish schools and asked about the system as it was in the year they visited (2000 – 2002 being the peak years). No-one appeared to ask a set of key questions - exactly when did the Finnish system start to improve, what conditions prevailed at the time of improvement, and what actions were taken, when. After all, the children in PISA 2000 were 15 years' of age; and their teachers had been trained years before 2000. It's not that this 'time lag' issue was new in transnational comparisons, it was simply odd that everyone had seemed to forget its importance.

It's not that this 'time lag' issue was new in transnational comparisons, it was simply odd that everyone had seemed to forget its importance." 

Tim Oates, Cambridge Assessment 

Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment asked these questions of Finnish educators when he supported the UK 2010 National Curriculum Review, and then worked his way through the research literature on the last 120 years of the emergence of modern education in Finland. You can read Tim's findings in his paper 'Finnish fairy stories'.

Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren of Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education took this further with his forensic examination of Finnish and Swedish education, through an extensive tour of Finland, a series of penetrating in-country interviews, and a further delve into the literature. Gabriel then put together 'Real Finnish Lessons', an extended monograph which has been widely quoted around the world.

Some have read these works as a strident criticism of the Finnish system. They are no such thing. Far from that, they attempt authentic analysis of the conditions and actions which gave rise to the undoubted rise in education standards in Finland from 1980 to 2000. But they are very critical of the misleading messages which some have given - messages which have been broadcast around the world as unequivocal recommendations for those systems anxious to improve.

This event will outline Gabriel and Tim's work and give participants an opportunity not only to gain an insight into the history and sequence of developments in Finland, but also to pose questions as to the implications of the new perspective on the transformation of education.