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    Title:     Finland’s policy about the starting age of primary school students

    Paper Details

    APA6 Referencing style.


    Topic -Finland’s policy about the starting age of primary school students


    Grading criteria

    You should demonstrate the ability to:

    ·  research and overview the development, implementation and current status of a particular education policy in a particular country context;

    ·  clearly and succinctly present the main points of the seminar presentation;

    ·  relate your selected policy and context to the broader context covered in class and in the set readings;

    ·  utilise a range of literature

    Selection of education policy area & context

    Strongly meets or exceeds requirements: Very good overview of origins and development of policy; background and current status described very well.
    Soundly meets requirements: Good overview of origins and development of policy; background and current status well described
    Meets requirements: Satisfactory overview of origins and development of policy; background and current status adequately described.
    Meets limited requirements: Limited overview of origins and development of policy; background and current status described
    Does not meet requirements: Poor overview of origins and development of policy; background and current status barely described

    Application of wider policy issues

    Strongly meets or exceeds requirements: Very strong evidence of understanding and application of the wider policy issues discussed in class prior to the seminars
    Soundly meets requirements: Good evidence of understanding and application of the wider policy issues discussed in class prior to the seminars
    Meets requirements: Adequate evidence of understanding and application of the wider policy issues discussed in class prior to the seminars
    Meets limited requirements: Some evidence of understanding and application of the wider policy issues discussed in class prior to the seminars
    Does not meet requirements: Fails to show evidence of understanding and application of the wider policy issues discussed in class prior to the seminars

    Synthesis and communication of main ideas

    Strongly meets or exceeds requirements: Report very clearly and succinctly communicates the main ideas.
    Soundly meets requirements: Report clearly and succinctly communicates the main ideas.
    Meets requirements: Report communicates the main ideas.
    Meets limited requirements: Report communicates some of the main ideas.
    Does not meet requirements: Report fails to adequately communicate the main ideas.

    Use of literature

    Appropriate use made of at least 4 pieces of relevant and scholarly literature in addition to those on the set reading list. Marks between 1 and 5 will be awarded depending on extent to which this is the case.

    Presentation standards

    Strongly meets or exceeds requirements: Very well-organised with attention paid to presentation, editing and correct referencing
    Soundly meets requirements: Well-organised with attention paid to presentation, editing and correct referencing
    Meets requirements: Adequately organised with attention paid to presentation, editing and correct referencing
    Meets limited requirements: Poorly organised with attention paid to presentation, editing and correct referencing
    Does not meet requirements: Referencing is haphazard; presentation and editing need attention.


Subject Education Systems Pages 9 Style APA


Finland’s Policy on Starting Age of Primary School Students

A country’s education system shapes the way education is provided in that particular nation. Countries who have had good policies of education have experienced better results for their children which has translated to increased literacy. Pre-school education is critical in ensuring that children are better prepared for secondary education (OECD, 2016). The development of an education policy starts with consultation on the best strategy to adopt. Additionally, according to Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi (2016), it is depended on the demographics of the country as well as what it intends to achieve. Where a policy seems to be ineffective, it is critical that it is changed to allow for increased effectiveness in addressing educational concerns (Chung, 2016). The effectiveness of an education policy can be established through an evaluation of how best it serves students as well as comparing it with the results of other countries with similar systems. This paper explores Finland’s policy of having a starting age of seven years for students joining the primary school. The background to the policy will be discussed as well as the current status. Additionally, the effectiveness of the policy in the current learning environment will be evaluated.

Origins and Development of Policy

Before the 1960’s, Finland followed a typical Germany-type tracked system in her primary education. However, after 1960, the Country was involved in an educational reform meant to change the two-track system, and have a full standard form of schooling. Notably, according to CIMO (2012), in the two-track systems, grade four students in elementary school had the option of either continuing in an academic system of 8 other classes resulting in a Matriculation and university entrance, or joining a civic stream of between 3 and 5 grades, which led to either employment of vocational schools (OECD, 2016). The objective of the new system for the Finnish government was to ensure that it becomes internationally competitive through the production of better-educated people and improving equality in the acquisition of education. Comprehensive and conventional schooling was instituted in the 1970s. However, until 1980’s, students were divided into three different levels based on mathematics and foreign languages; a streaming that was abolished in 1985 (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2017).

The comprehensive school curriculum of the 1970’s inculcated the ideas of equity, pluralism, and pragmatism in education. As such, in the early years of education, implementation of the equity of access to education was stressed (Stronge & Xu, 2017). During this time, family background of the students was a key factor in the selection of school in which they were to obtain a primary education.  All children used to attend a comprehensive school of their choice and in most of the cases, to the one nearby (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2016). However, since the 1990s, parents were granted the opportunity to choose the school where their children would attend freely. During this time, Finland had the best performing schools considering that even the lowest performing school in the Country could still reach international average in some of the subjects such as mathematics, science, and even reading literacy (CIMO, 2012). Despite those gains, Finnish schools did not consider competition to be a significant driving force in raising quality education and developing the systems. Additionally, the quality of education was not so much a concern during the early stages of education as it is currently. As such, the Country was forced to come up with a policy which makes it mandatory for children aged seven years to attend primary school.

Background of the Policy

Finland is comprised of two main languages, Finnish- spoken by 9% of the population and Swedish- spoken by 5% of Finland’s population (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2017). Both groups of people have an inalienable right to education and training in their dialect. Additionally, the country has the indigenous Saami language which is official in some northern parts. Due to the differences in languages and culture, Finland had to provide education to all population groups and all regions of the country equally. As such, there was a need to develop a school network which covered the whole country that has 5.5 million inhabitants. As such, 3000 comprehensive schools and more than 400 upper secondary schools were started (Stronge & Xu, 2017). There was a need to ensure that educational opportunities are available to all students without regard to their language or region in the Country.

In 2000, Finland had a pre-school reform whereby the tradition of transition from pre-school to primary school was transformed. Since 2000, it has always been the case that pre-school has become a transition age from Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) to primary education. A policy was created which made is compulsory for children to transition to primary school at the age of seven years (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2016). The policy about the starting age of the primary level education for students was based on a variety of factors. It was meant to cure the existing disparities in access to education because children were joining the primary school at different ages. Additionally, equality to education access was ensured as all children were now entitled to the primary level education and it was compulsory to attain such a program irrespective of location in the Country (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2017). As such, the background to this starting age for primary school children was pegged on the aspects of equality in accessing opportunities for education and ensuring uniformity in accessing education.

Current Status of the Policy

In Finland, the contemporary system is that it is compulsory for children to join primary school at the age of seven years. However, before then, children are supposed to participate in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) although this is not compulsory. Participation in ECEC is for children between the age of 0 and six years and includes children in pre-primary education. The current status has led to mixed results. For instance, the Country has been in the forefront regarding her children having broad access to ECEC. However, participation in such a program for children in kindergarten and family day care is lower compared to others in The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In Finland, currently, there is a legal requirement for children (0-6 years old) to have a place in ECEC. Such children have access to education for approximately 10 hours daily. For families with low-income, ECEC services are free.

Currently, all children in Finland are entitled to a pre-school education at the age of six years before they can then start their primary school which is compulsory. Despite the participation in early childhood education being compulsory, 97% of the children take part in preschool education one year before primary schooling (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2016). After starting primary school at the age of seven, they finish after completing comprehensive school syllabus or 10 years after their start of compulsory primary education. The purpose of this primary school is not only to educate but also nurture children. According to Perry (2011), Children are helped to grow as humans and societal members with the acquisition of the prerequisite knowledge and skills. After completion of primary education, students then opt to either join secondary level education (upper secondary level) or upper secondary vocational education and training.

Application of Wider Policy Issues

Various issues arise out of the policy of having the starting age of primary school students set at seven years. One of those issues is the increased population of primary schools making the resources in public primary schools stretched to the limit. Notably, making it compulsory to attend primary school education resulted in high turnouts which are not always coupled with a corresponding increase in resource allocations from the government. Notably, Finland is nearly entirely comprised of State schools as only 20 schools and private (religious) exist throughout the country (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2017). Most of the public schools are non-religious but rather choose to teach religion because the curriculum requires so from a sociological perspective. The wider issue of congestion in schools is one of those that the policy in starting age has brought about. The second problem about the policy is that accountability is based on the professionalism of the teachers as opposed to test-based accountability (Stronge & Xu, 2017). The education system in Country has been forced to rely on the expertise of teachers who happen to be knowledgeable, skilled, and committed.

The policy has resulted in increased participation not just for the indigenous children but also from the immigrant populations. The growing number of participants has led to the movement of ECEC from Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Education and Culture. Such a move was aimed at ensuring that immigrant children participate more in preparatory school (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2016). The next wider policy issue is that teaching in Finland has now been viewed as a very prestigious career; apart from salaries, other problems such as social prestige and professional autonomy have been associated with the primary schools. This trend is despite the fact that teachers in Finland teach less than their counterparts in other OECD nations. Additionally, teachers have been given considerable pedagogical autonomy which allows them to choose their teaching methodologies as well as materials and resources.

Evaluation of Policy Effectiveness

The determination of the effectiveness of the policy on starting age can be done through a look at how it has led to increased participation and education quality. Compared to other OECD countries, Finland has since 2015 been the country with the low number of children participating in ECEC education (Washington Post, 2017). As such, the policy has not been effective in ensuring that children participate more in the acquisition of pre-school education. According to a survey by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) a study which tests mathematics, science, and reading literacy, Finland has continued to slide (Salmela-Aro et al., 2017). Such a drop has been explained from three key points. One of those is that of gender disparities in school performance. In specific, Finland is the only school in the OECD region whereby the performance of girls is way above those of boys (Washington Post, 2017). The second reason is the emergence of hand-held technologies and media which have taken reading and study time. Thirdly, the economic downturn in the country since 2008 has had adverse effects on the education sector.

Credit should be paid to the policy as it has ensured that almost all children aged six years participate in pre-primary school teaching in the Country. However, before then, Finland ranks behind regarding access to ECEC (Lavonen & Korhonen, 2017). Specifically, the number of children who participate in pre-primary education is relatively small than in many OECD countries. Additionally, the monitoring of quality takes into account the views of children. However, according to Washington Post (2017), such a practice presents various challenges. One of those is that no shared perspectives for quality exist and quality goals are not stated. Additionally, there are no national monitoring systems for education standards in the country (Niemi, Toom, & Kallioniemi, 2016). Moreover, there is limited training on how to monitor education in the schools. Such challenges have resulted in the drop regarding the quality of education in the Country over the years. As such, the current policy has been ineffective in ensuring increased participation and quality of teaching.

In conclusion, the effectiveness of an education policy is based on its ability to ensure greater participation of children in education and enhanced quality of services. In Finland, education started with a two-track system borrowed from the German education system. However, this system changed to the comprehensive systems which ensure that children learn from the same system of education. Since 2000, Finland has ensured that primary education is compulsory for all children aged seven years. Before then, however, every child has a legal entitlement to ECEC. The policy on the starting age was necessitated by the need to have equal opportunities for access to education. The current system ensured that children participate more in primary education. However, the policy has been ineffective because there is no standard monitoring of education quality resulting in a drop in education quality and standards compared to other OECD countries. It is recommended that Finland deploys standardized education monitoring tools so that she can regain her lost glory in the education sector.


Centre for International Mobility (CIMO). (2012). Lifelong guidance in Finland.

Chung, J. (2016). The (mis) use of the Finnish teacher education model:‘policy-based evidence-making’?. Educational Research58(2), 207-219.

Lavonen, J., & Korhonen, T. (2017). Towards Twenty-First Century Education: Success Factors, Challenges, and the Renewal of Finnish Education. In Educating for the 21st Century (pp. 243-264). Springer Singapore.

Ministry of Education and Culture (2017). Finnish Country Note on Transitions in ECEC Review of Policies and Practices for Transitions from Early Childhood Education and Care to Primary Education.

Niemi, H., Toom, A., & Kallioniemi, A. (Eds.). (2016). Miracle of education: The principles and practices of teaching and learning in Finnish schools. Springer.

OECD (2016). Starting Strong IV: Early Childhood Education and Care. Data Country Note.

Perry, C. (2011). Arguments on the school starting age.

Salmela-Aro, K., Read, S., Minkkinen, J., Kinnunen, J. M., & Rimpelä, A. (2017). Immigrant status, gender, and school burnout in Finnish lower secondary school students: A longitudinal study. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 0165025417690264.

Stronge, J. H., & Xu, X. (2017). What Makes a World-Class School and How We Can Get There. ASCD.

Washington Post. (2017). Finland’s schools were once the envy of the world. Now, they’re slipping. Retrieved 29 September 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/finlands-schools-were-once-the-envy-of-the-world-now-theyre-slipping/2016/12/08/dcfd0f56-bd60-11e6-91ee-1adddfe36cbe_story.html?utm_term=.495af4fc0ebe

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