If you foster a child, then the type of schooling that they receive will obviously be very important to you. A sound education is essential to progress in life. There has been much debate over recent decades in the UK as to how best to achieve this simple goal. We have a massive educational infrastructure and certainly no shortage of educational theories. Dogma and orthodoxy are the order of the day; that is until some new theory comes along. What is true, is that despite all this frantic and politically charged debate, this country is still a long way from beating its European rivals in the race to attain the best results. Enter Finland: this is a country with a comprehensive school system that has been noticed the world over: it is firmly established as one of the leading nations in terms of the educational results it achieves for its young people. Finnish pupils got some of the world’s best results in maths, science and reading. Pisa tests (Programme for International Student Assessment) were used to quantify these results: these aim to measure and compare the performance of students right across different countries. There have been three recent reports into education in Finland. The last one was issued in 2012 which showed that Finland still produces outstanding results. In point of fact, Finland routinely tops the rankings of global education systems and is renowned for having no banding systems – all their pupils, irrespective of ability, receive instruction in the same classes. The result: the gap between the weakest and the strongest performing pupils is the smallest in the world.
There is a balance to be struck: Singapore records extremely high scores in the PISA tests – however, their school system is known to be a pressure cooker. This has the effect of placing pupils under a great deal of pressure from an early age.
What is so interesting is that Finland’s education system is set up along lines that the UK’s simply would not be. There have been many fashions in education which have been tried in this country. And there has been endless experimentation. This would have affected the carers of foster children – as it would have for all parents. There is a sense of prevailing exasperation that this country, despite endless tinkering with the system, cannot get near the results of other nations. Every year, the World Economic Forum puts out its ‘Global Competitiveness Report’ on the state of the world’s economies. It measures a range of factors that impact on a country’s competitiveness – including education. In 2016, after looking into the schooling data to reveal which countries have the best education systems; neither the US, or the UK makes the grade in the top 11countries. This is a fact widely under reported in the UK. so we have much to learn from our Finnish neighbours. in this country, children do not begin being taught in a formal way until they are seven years of age, and they are encouraged to learn with a sense of joy and discovery.
Many of the features of the educational system in the UK would not appeal in Finland. Here, they do not have grammar schools, meaning that this area; hugely contentious in the UK is simply avoided. They are fully committed to the idea of equality throughout society. Most intriguingly, certain of our education system are actually outlawed in Finland. School selection, along the lines of an 11 plus style examination is one; formal exam testing – until the age of 18 is simply not allowed. The ideas we have here that would be known to all whom foster children, are unheard of in Finland. Things like privatisation, competition, then a plethora of testing at various young ages is entirely absent from their system. Unsurprisingly, league tables do not exist.
All the things that result in worry and stress for parents; including those who foster children in this country do not happen in Finland. People here worry about getting their children into a particular school. It is common for people to move house to try and get their children into the catchment areas of the best performing schools. It is even common for them to misrepresent where it is they live to accomplish this end. Then they worry if their children are not in the top class. Parents in this country who are affected by all this competition inevitably become anxious. This can directly affect children – and this includes foster children as well. Because all the comprehensive schools in Finland get outstanding results, there is simply no reason for parents there to change where they live.
Most significantly, children in Finland are not subjected to anything like the same pressure: generally they are given less homework and the school hours are shorter. Finnish school children are consequently less stressed and report feeling happier. Because the teaching achieves such good results, it is most unusual for children to have additional tutoring.
Around the other side of the globe, Japan is one of the top performing countries in literacy, science, maths and literacy in the OECD group. Students in Japan go through six years of elementary school, then three years of junior high school. This is followed by three years of high school; after this, they decide whether they want to go to university. High school is not compulsory, however enrolment is close to 98%. This figure should be contrasted with the reported figure that only 40% of the UK’s general population were in higher education in 2013. For people with an interest in foster care, the comparison with Japan is even more worrisome as only 6% of looked after children and care leavers were enrolled in higher education in that year. It should be noted that although Japan’s results are clearly impressive, children there are subject to considerable pressure.
Figures for 2016 do not provide much by way of encouragement for this country. The UK is still lagging well behind leading countries in education. It has made little progress up the international rankings since results from three years ago. The recent Pisa rankings, again organised by the OECD, are based on the tests which are taken by 15-year-olds in over 70 countries. This country is well behind top performers – Singapore and Finland, but the UK also trails behind Vietnam, Poland and Estonia. The director of education for the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, described the UK’s results as “flat in a changing world.”
The national fostering stocktake is reporting in December this year. One of the key areas of debate will be the educational attainment of looked after children. Running alongside this, is the whole issue of the status of foster carers. There is a ground swell of opinion amongst foster carers that this needs to be urgently addressed. It is likely to be having an adverse effect on recruitment and the country is already struggling to cope with the effects of a shortfall of over 9,000 foster families this year. Some foster carers have recently formed a trade union to push for changes. Foster carers James and Christine Johnstone have been successful in the tribunal case that they brought against Glasgow City Council in recent weeks. The judgement in their favour deemed that the couple were employees of the council working as carers within the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care team. This means that the way we think about fostering and foster carers is likely to be changing. So, it would be generally advantageous, that as part of this process of reassessment, all foster carers joined the educational debate to bring pressure for change. Foster carers have the lead responsibility in ensuring that looked after children receive support and advocacy in relation to their education. Agencies and local authorities can play an important role in supporting carers in this vital task. Foster carers who feel empowered through training and support to advocate strongly for their children in terms of their education, will be perceived in an ever more positive light. This is an important strand in relation to the general perception of foster carers – such behaviour has the potential to strengthen their ‘professional’ image. We want foster carers to be resilient; this has to extend to lobbying hard for the best educational outcomes for the children that they look after. The country can no longer afford the waste of potential that is implied by the fact that only 6% of looked after children and care leavers are taking advantage of places in higher education.
More information on UK government policy http://bit.ly/1UNbsh1 and
Foster a child: take note of our ‘Rainbow Rewards’
Are you interested in what different skills you might need to foster children, foster babies or teenagers? Wherever your interest in foster care lies, Rainbow is a London fostering agency offering outstanding support and guidance. Additionally, if you are able to refer someone to be a foster carer with us, we will give you £500. You’ll receive the money into your account once your referral has been approved, and the first placement has been made. Current foster carers who might be considering making a move to Rainbow, could also receive a payment under our scheme. This will be a bonus once approved, for foster carers who already have children placed with them on a long-term basis.
We are an independent fostering agency always looking to recruit people interested in fostering regardless of ethnicity, cultural background, level of education, marital status or sexual orientation. Call our recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 for more detailed information.
Check out our news stories…
Charities for foster children and care leavers calls for training for teachers
August 10th, 2017
Become and Voices from Care are charities that representing the interests of children in care and young care leavers (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…our ever resourceful Youth Participation Officer is getting a great response to the list of summer activities he has put together