The Best Performing Schools in the World – What Can We Learn From Them? | AD

*This is a collaborative guest post

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan made a bold statement by saying she wanted England to get into the top five of the international Pisa tests for English and maths, in 2020.

PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international assessment of the reading, science and mathematical literacy of 15-year-old learners. It takes place every three years, and ranks particular countries according to their learner’s test results. The most recent results, released in 2013 and based on 2012 data, show the size of the challenge ahead. The UK was ranked 23rd for reading, 26th for maths and 20th in science.

Clearly, other countries are performing significantly better, and the UK has some way to go. Another recent report ranked the 40 developed countries with the best education systems; Finland topped it, followed by South Korea. What are schools, in these leading countries, doing that’s so right, and what can be learned from them?

It’s no real surprise to see Finland at No.1. The nation has been praised for revolutionising its education system by turning the ‘rules’ on its head. As this article reveals, Finnish children don’t begin school until age 7. They have more breaks, and shorter school hours, than many other countries; the average school day in Finland is five hours long, and homework loads are kept light.

The story of a teacher who kept an older boy down a school year to help him learn; it worked. If teachers have the power to make a decision like that, in the best interests of the student – regardless of the system in place – an individual can improve. The Finnish system is based very much on equality and fairness – gifted children are treated no differently to those who are less naturally talented. Read more on the Finnish education system, here.

South Korea schools also score amazingly well. There are similarities with Finland – weareteachers.com say that, ‘South Korea overhauled their schools and committed to an equal-opportunity system promising to educate every child, just as the Finnish did. They set up a lottery system so that all kids, regardless of where they lived, or how much money they had, got access to a great elementary education.’

However, while the school day in Finland is relaxed and laid back, in South Korea it’s a different story. South Korean children usually attend school from 9am to 5pm, and sometimes have night classes, too. Students there are also required to sit lots of standardized tests. There is very little break time, either; just the period between classes. It makes for an intense learning schedule. South Korea is also a ‘world leader’ when it comes to classroom technology.

So, two highly successful education systems, one which nurtures a relaxed and fun atmosphere, and another that places greater pressure on pupils in the form of longer hours and more tests. What can the UK learn from each?

South Korea embraces technology, Finland enjoys playtime and pupils are obviously stimulated and motivated to learn. That’s clearly important, and UK teachers can make great use of the ever-increasing range of resources available to them from the likes of www.hope-education.co.uk. There’s also great support for the teachers themselves, and more on the way they are recruited, and trained, in this article on TED.

The Best Performing Schools in the World – What Can We Learn From Them?


  • Donna Wishart

    Donna Wishart is married to Dave and they have two children, Athena (12) and Troy (11). They live in Surrey with their two cats, Fred and George. Once a Bank Manager, Donna has been writing about everything from family finance to days out, travel and her favourite recipes since 2012. Donna is happiest either exploring somewhere new, with her camera in her hand and family by her side or snuggled up with a cat on her lap, reading a book and enjoying a nice cup of tea. She firmly believes that tea and cake can fix most things.

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