Finnish lessons

Despite advances in technology, inspirational teachers remain the key to providing a first-class education, writes Angela Drew

In the independent sector, the summer generally spells ‘summer works’ – a time for upgrading existing plant and developing new facilities. Amongst other developments this September, my school will be opening a dedicated Raspberry Pi lab.

Tech-savvy readers will be aware that the girls of Bromley High will not be spending the coming year refining their grandmothers’ short-crust pastry recipes. The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer which, when plugged into your keyboard and television, can perform many of the functions of a laptop or PC. The beauty of Raspberry Pi is that its low cost will enable young people across the globe to build and programme their own computers, enabling them take command of the electronic world around them.

Yet cutting-edge new IT facilities, however exciting, are not, of themselves, markers of excellence in education. Indeed, when I visited schools in Finland earlier this year, it was striking how limited IT use was in the highest performing school system in Europe. What then makes Finnish schools so consistently successful in the international league tables? The quality of their teachers. Teaching is the most highly regarded of professions in Finland, so only the brightest and most highly motivated Finnish students qualify for the privilege of training to become a teacher.

When Mackinsey, the renowned management consultancy firm, produced its influential report on the world’s best schools ‘How the world’s best performing education systems come out on top’, it confirmed what all parents and pupils intuitively understand – the pre-eminent importance that the best schools place on great teaching. A striking quotation from that 2007 investigation – “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” – has subsequently shaped educationalists’ thinking about how we raise performance across British schools.

Rightly, finding the best teachers and training them to get the best out of their pupils has become the key priority for our schools. The laudable ‘Teach First’ initiative, which places top young graduates into tough schools, is driven by a belief in the difference that an inspirational teacher can make to a child’s life.

When we remember the most inspirational teachers from our own school days, we do not so much remember what they taught us as how they made us feel. For me, it was Mrs Smears. I can’t remember any single particular fact that she conveyed to me during the five years that she taught me English, but I have a vivid recollection of her perched excitedly on a desktop, fervently clutching a copy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in her hand, and sharing the ecstatic confidence: “Girls, I’ve been saving this for you!” And we were inspired because Mrs Smears made us feel special: she made us feel that we were sophisticated 14 year olds capable of understanding the depths of human passion and the heights of poetic expression.

The best teachers have the power to excite a child’s imagination, to challenge their thinking, to release their potential. As a headteacher, one of the most crucial and rewarding aspects of my role will always be to find and develop those teachers who will inspire pupils, who will create ‘Eureka’ moments in young minds and moments of magic in young hearts.

 

Angela Drew is headmistress of Bromley High School W: www.bromleyhigh.gdst.net

 

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