Finland has seen repeated success in national education rankings since it implemented education reforms 40 years ago. Experts have argued that this is due to the fact that it goes against the competitive, evaluation driven and centralised model that we so frequently see in the Western World today. Yet, despite these results being published and continually evident in prime media outlets, the UK is yet to adopt any ‘leanings’ from the Finns and in 2016, continued to lag behind other leading countries in education, taking 15th place out of 70 in the Pisa rankings. Paul Smith, CEO of school communications app, Schoop, explains what we can learn from the Finnish system.
Cooperation is more important than competition
In Finland, there is no emphasis on competition which is prevalent in other Western countries. There are also no private schools but instead, every academic institution is funded through public money. Yet, in 2016 in the UK, it was noted that 7% of the population is privately educated and this ‘educated elite’ continues to dominate leading professions, including journalism, with 51% of leading print journalist said to be educated privately. Arguably, this attitude in the UK in helping to further the progressions of the privileged rather than providing an equal footing for the masses could be seen more of a hindrance to progression in the education sector than a help.
It’s a known fact that children in Finland have very little homework per night. This is said to be a system based on trust between schools, parents and teachers. Instead, time at home is treated as a priority and is reserved for quality family time where children develop social skills. This is very much opposite to attitudes we see in the UK. In 2016, the BBC reported that not only is high amounts of homework impacting children, but it also causes stress for parents. Yet, it is not proved that consistent levels of homework continue to deliver results so over time, many have questioned whether this is even necessary.
College tuition is free
Education in Finland is subsidised by a combination of taxpayer dollars and the Federal government. The Government believes that education is a human right and by providing this education for free it takes away much stress from students, which in turn, is said to allow them to thrive. However, this is unfortunately not an attitude that we see in the UK, where the university experience is treated as a business exchange rather than a divine right. Students who wish to go to University are lumped with fees of £27,000 across three years and many of these individuals are forced to take on a part-time job just to get by rather than focusing their full attention on their studies. This is also being reported to having a negative impact on the overall mental health of our young people which surely cannot be sustainable?
Early education is not measured
In 2016, people in the UK were shocked to read that children as young as six were stressed about exams and results. As a whole, a significant amount of pressure is placed on children and their abilities from a young age in the UK which is measured frequently through tests. Yet Finland shows us that perhaps it doesn’t have to be this way. Before kids learn traditional lessons such as times tables, there is a focus on social skills, teaching children how to play with one another and deal with emotional issues. During this time, children are not measured at all for their performance but are instead taught to develop socially without putting a measure on this. This begs the question: as a teacher or parent, which structure would you prefer?
Teaching is a respected profession
In the UK, we consistently see teacher strikes due to overwhelming expectations and lack of pay. In the Western world, it’s quite common to hear the phrase, ‘Those who can’t do, teach’, which completely undermines what these talented individuals do on a daily basis. Yet, teaching is regarded as a well-respected profession by the Finnish people and due to this attitude, teachers aren’t underpaid. Instead, to become a teacher in Finland, candidates must get their master’s degree and complete a residency programme which provides them with significant levels of experience.
There is much to be learnt from the Finnish education system. Not only do children report being happier and performing better at these younger school days, but in 2011, it was reported that 66% of students go to college, which was the highest rate in Europe and one that the UK should envy – in 2017 it was reported that just 49% of students in England go on to study in University. Granted, university will not be the end goal for all students but the Finnish culture suggests that there are great benefits to their approach and ensuring that education remains an option to all. If the UK chooses to undertake at least some of these reforms, our students across all age ranges could benefit significantly. Realistically, so could our country as a whole.
Filling the UK’s ICT skills gap is one of the hottest topics for government and employers right now.
When I was invited to a Tech Nation meeting at Downing Street in February with the UK alliance partners, the talk was all “skills-gap”. What’s good is that the UK recognises that tech will contribute billions more to the economy than it does today, so is doing something about it – today.
What is the skills gap?
Simply put, the majority of ICT graduates I’ve interviewed for jobs leave university with nothing like the skills modern tech companies, particularly SMEs (small and medium enterprises) like mine, need. Every ICT graduate I’ve employed has been a hobbyist programmer, web developer, or UI designer. They learn what employers want today because they teach themselves in their spare time. That means the curriculum is not keeping up with the industry, and how can it?
A three or four year degree cannot flex enough to accommodate advances in tech. So universities and employers need to work more closely to bridge the gap that will prepare students for work. SMEs are more agile, and can quickly adopt new technology because they’re not anchored in to legacy platforms that can take a long time to break away from or redevelop.
With e-Skills UK estimating that Europe could be facing a skills gap of 900,000 skilled ICT workers by 2019/2020, up-skilling is unquestionably essential – so where do we begin?
This is where universities and government are looking UK-wide to establish successful tech hubs that bring together SMEs and innovators in a spirit of collaboration – sharing new ideas, and building strategic partnerships.
As a ‘Digital Dozen’ ambassador for UK Tech event Digital 2015, I firmly believe in the power that these events have in terms of bringing entrepreneurs and thought-leaders together to establish meaningful relationships and inspire the next generation of digital thinkers.
Giving people the opportunity to learn about digital skills in the company of prospective employers, recruiters and training companies is a step in the right direction. Raising awareness of opportunities in digital industries and talking about the potential of technology will encourage people take ownership of their futures, follow their entrepreneurial instincts, and enter the digital sphere.
Based in South Wales, which is the fastest growing tech hub in Europe, Schoop has benefited from being a part of Tech Nation Alliance Partner. I had no idea there were so many bright and blooming tech companies right on my doorstep that we can learn from, and grow together. There are similar alliance partners throughout the UK.
Bodies like the ESTNet (The Electronic and Software Technologies Network for Wales) have also launched campaigns to help upskill ‘work ready graduates’ in partnership with technology companies, local universities and the Welsh Government.
Projects like these give companies the opportunity to employ an undergraduate from the electronic engineering or computer science departments at leading universities to work on a project specific to the business. Perfect! This is exactly the kind of initiative we discussed at Number 10.
Can education and the UK government do more?
There is definitely room for improvement. Events and collaborative tech-hubs need to gather momentum, and continue to become bigger and brighter beacons that inspire future generations.
If these kinds of events and projects continue to be rolled out, and keep their funding, then those undergraduates can go back to university and drive the changes required in the curriculum. Education should be prepared to learn something back.
by Paul Smith, Founder & CTO, Schoop
Rewriting the future: Raising ambition and attainment in Welsh schools is a 2014 report that “describes the Welsh Government’s programme and its four key themes to tackle the link between poverty and educational underachievement in schools, for use in developing interventions to raise the attainment of learners living in poverty.”
Section 2 (pp. 20-22), titled ‘Family and community engagement’, deals with the already well known link between parental engagement and pupil attainment. The report emphasises how difficult it is to establish and maintain this link in so-called hard to reach areas, but goes on to say how effective such a link can be for strengthening communities and positively impacting educational practices:
Many schools in disadvantaged communities find that engaging parents/carers is one of the biggest challenges they face…Community engagement has a positive influence on learning outcomes. Schools that reach out and actively engage the community in the life of the school and the school in the life of the community have a positive impact on educational outcomes
In England, under the new Ofsted inspection framework, schools are graded on their ability to devise and implement effective parental engagement strategies. In order to obtain an outstanding judgement in terms of Leadership and Management, there must be evidence that:
The school has highly successful strategies for engaging with parents and carers, to the very obvious benefit of pupils, including those who might traditionally find working with the school difficult.
The criteria for success in this category is the same in England and Wales; family/community engagement is crucial for schools that want to achieve ‘outstanding’ rating from the inspectorate, and Schoop is an ideal tool for helping to meet this challenge.
Download the app and enter 123 when prompted for a Schoop ID to access our demo content channel and see how Schoop can work in your school or community organisation
Along with 11 other companies from across the UK, Schoop was chosen by an impressive advisory panel that includes entrepreneurs, digital champions, and investors.
From the Pitch10 website:
A showcase of 10 – make that 12! – of the most promising digital companies in TechNation (across the UK) and representing Scotland, N Ireland, Wales, N England, S England and London. The UK is establishing itself as the world’s leading TechNation. Given talent in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and across all of England, No 10 Downing Street is pleased to host an event to showcase some of the most promising.
We’re very excited to be part of this event, and honoured to be presenting with other innovative British tech companies.
Download the app and enter 123 when prompted for a Schoop ID to access our demo content channel
It’s finally here! After two months’ development, our tech wizards have integrated the Schoop Staffroom with Google Translate. So, if you want to provide content in any of the new languages, you have the option to do so.
How does it work?
If a subscriber has chosen a language you don’t currently support, you will see a button called Translate Options in the Staffroom Dashboard. Click it and choose your translate options. If you want content translated automatically, tick the box in the Google Translate column. If you want to support the language manually, choose the Manual option (this means writing it yourself).
You can also make changes to your translation options in Staffroom “Settings”.
How does it work in the Schoop app?
Open the app, click settings, and you’ll see the option to change language.
Make sure the app is up to date!
Parental involvement that does not effectively reach all families has the potential to widen gaps between disadvantaged students and their better off peers. (Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, 2014)
Research from the last 15 years around Parental Engagement shows conclusively that when parents are engaged with their child’s education, achievement increases. Looking at some of the most high impact papers in this area, it’s clear that there is a strong correlation between engagement in the classroom (between children and teachers) and engagement at home (between children and their parents/carers).
“Parental involvement in the form of ‘at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement.” (Desforges et al, 2003)
Some of the most commonly listed barriers to parental engagement include: parents’ lack of time due to work and other important commitments, lack of confidence in helping with homework, and previous bad experience with school (not to mention language issues in multi-ethnic areas).
“Feedback from school leaders shows that one of the major concerns in running a modern school is trying to get parents to engage more. Because of the changing demographic of modern parenting…traditional approaches to parental involvement have been largely unsuccessful.” (Campbell, 2011)
Similarly, Campbell’s research has shown that teachers also find it hard to engage with parents. Ineffective communication methods between school and home and a loose or often non-existent strategy are often the most significant barriers. Also:
“Some school leaders spoke of the struggle they had in defining what the role of parental engagement is and how to reconcile this within the boundaries of their existing role and the daily demands of the job.” (Campbell, 2011)
Campbell also goes on to state that the home environment and the school environment are almost entirely separate:
“When discussing parental involvement, some school leaders did not recognise the amount of parental involvement in their child’s education that goes on unseen in the home because it is not a traditional definition of parental engagement.” (Campbell, 2011)
Everything from entertainment to administration, business to politics, charity to social networking, has been impacted by technology in a massively significant way, usually for the better. That the education sector seems to have been comparatively slow to catch up to this revolution is a constant nadir for educational professionals and policy-makers; technological innovation, when it happens, is slow to catch on and rarely sticks. Today we have things like moodle and other hub-like programs that are definitely beneficial, but given the rapid advance in technological implementation in other sectors, it does seem to be a small advance.
Schools that have the resources to provide tablets and similar devices are seeing that the technology has huge beneficial learning implications, and there is much research surrounding the efficacy of such devices in early learning; the amount of apps available for parents and teachers to help with numeracy, literacy, and creative skills is large and getting larger. Charities such as the E-Learning foundation are doing marvellous work in providing information and resources in this area.
Which is great for the classroom. But in terms of administration and management, specifically with regards to communication to parents, there is little opportunity for schools to expand beyond traditional methods such as phone calls home, restrictive text message systems, and the letter sitting at the bottom of a child’s bag containing vital information that the school didn’t have the time or money to send via post to every parent.
“It is possible to harness new technologies for parental communication purposes through the use of school blogs and podcasts, a school website (regularly updated) and online questionnaires and resources in order to reach at a distance those who are unable or unwilling to engage with the school in person. The use of text messaging alerts regarding pupil absence and school closures is a further example of this.” (Campbell, 2011)
The problem with text messaging systems for this purpose is that teachers and administrators can usually only target one phone number per family. Relevant phone numbers must be stored in the database, meaning that if parents haven’t updated their contact details, some text messages won’t get delivered. The same goes for letters in relation to old home addresses.
Even though primary teachers are generally positive about ICT and its ability to support their administrative and management duties, the findings point to low levels of use of ICT for administration and management. (Selwood, 2005)
Schools have websites – some are better than others, but they exist, and some regularly post newsletters and other resources. Schools are able to email parents as an effective means of parental communication. So what’s the problem? Why is engagement so difficult in so many schools, if this technology is being used? There are many reasons, and one of the most important is that many parents simply don’t have time to go looking for the information they need in order to feel engaged with their child’s education.
“ICT can contribute to improved parental engagement by: providing a convenient means for parents to access up-to-date information about their child’s learning; enabling parents to be more engaged with their child’s learning; supporting more flexible working arrangements for staff.” (Goodall, 2011)
Empowering teachers and parents with newer communications technology such as mobile apps can bring enormous benefits. If a parent could receive alerts through their smartphone or tablet, instantaneously, they would feel more engaged with their child’s curriculum and school activities. Along with more comprehensive messages such as newsletters and surveys, the technology would provide a direct link from school to home that would effectively push the research discussed in this article into newer, more effective territories. This is where Schoop comes in.
“In a Becta study only 25 per cent of parents received information about their child’s learning via online tools; 84 per cent of parents reported that their child’s school provided them with little or no resources to help support their child’s learning at home.” (Goodall, 2011)
The Schoop app offers a chance for schools to bypass many of the previously inadequate methods of parental engagement. Using a web-based dashboard, administrators and teachers can send out one-way, non-sensitive alerts and newsletters that parents and carers receive through push notification via the app (which is downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes store, or the Google Play store).
Receiving information in this format eliminates the need for parents to go looking for information – it finds them. Alerts can be sent to all users at once, and there is no character limit. The app is free to download, so there is no limit to the amount of family members that can access the information. The calendar function stores important event dates, and is interactive, so that entries can be added by the user, not just the school.
Researchers have found suggestive evidence of the positive relationship between school-to-family communication and student outcomes. It is possible, however, that negative teacher-parent communication that is focused on increasing parental monitoring of student behavior and school-work could decrease students’ sense of autonomy and engagement. (Kraft & Dougherty, Harvard, 2012)
Our technology totally removes the danger of so-called ‘monitoring’ techniques; students will not feel that they are being singled out for a phone call home because the same information is being sent to all parents who have selected their child’s year and class groups (as well as any other group such as Chess Club, Swimming Team, etc.). This means that, when the phone call home is necessary, its importance is emphasised.
“Parental engagement has a large and positive impact on children’s learning.” (Goodall, 2011)
It’s time to start thinking about how better technology can impact school management and administration, parental engagement, at-home learning, and community cohesiveness. Schoop is a cost-effective, time-saving, and workable solution to many of the problems associated with these issues.
If you would like to schedule a demonstration of the technology, please click here.
For more information about how it works, please watch our ‘Schoop in Two Minutes’ video:
- Review of best practice in parental engagement: Practitioners summary Janet Goodall et al, 2011
- The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review Professor Charles Desforges & Alberto Abouchaar, 2003
- How to involve hard-to-reach parents: encouraging meaningful parental involvement with schools Clare Campbell, 2011
- The Effect of Teacher-Family Communication on Student Engagement: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment Matthew A. Kraft & Shaun M. Dougherty, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2012
- Primary School Teachers’ Use of ICT for Administration and Management Ian Selwood, 2005
- Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, 2014