Director General of National Board of Education would restrict free choice of schools
In Turku and Helsinki, one-third of pupils choose a secondary school other than the nearest one to hand
As an article in Helsingin Sanomat on January 24th suggested, a recent study has confirmed that in certain areas many Finnish families choose for their children schools that are at a greater distance from home than the local school.
In the five largest cities, children often start school at a local elementary school, but because of curriculum issues more than one-third of pupils in the age group tend to apply for admission to another school outside their immediate catchment area.
Aulis Pitkälä, Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, would be willing to restrict the choice of schools.
In other words, he would like to impose stricter regulations on the preference for local schools.
Pitkälä explains his stand by saying that there is a need to prevent the differences between comprehensive schools from growing further, as some schools are trying to attract pupils by offering specialised foreign-language programmes or other special curricula and aptitude tests.
According to a survey conducted by Helsingin Sanomat, as many as one-third of pupils in Turku and Helsinki choose a secondary school other than the nearest one to hand. Among the major cities, the proportion of such pupils is the smallest in Vantaa.
”It is important to see to it that all local schools are good”, says the new Director General of the Finnish National Board of Education, a Social Democrat, who was previously in charge of the the City of Vantaa’s Education Department and later on of that of the City of Espoo.
In Vantaa’s comprehensive schools, all special curricula were largely abandoned. At present, they offer only music classes, specialised foreign-language programmes, and Montessori classes.
”The free choice of schools is suitable for small and medium-sized cities, but not for large cities, as there is a risk that they become too diverged”, says Elina Lehto-Häggroth, who is currently in charge of the City of Vantaa’s Education Department.
In Espoo, most secondary schools have special curricula, and according to Kaisu Toivonen, Director of Education Services, they are not supposed to be abandoned.
Pupils in basic education living some distance from school (more than 5 km) are usually entitled to free transport. However, pupils going to a school other than the nearest one are not entitled to free transport in Espoo.
Toivonen admits that special curricula tend to attract talented pupils. Even some studies suggest that differences in learning results have increased in Espoo and Helsinki more than in Vantaa.
In Turku, classes in specific subject areas are called special classes. They are subject to a separate decision by the Educational Board.
Special education in foreign languages and language immersion both start in the first grade, while classes in music, mathematics, physical education, and the visual arts all begin in the third grade.
In Tampere, there are no longer more than three basic education districts. In principle, only the foreign language classes attract first-grade pupils from outside the immediate catchment area, says Veli-Matti Kanerva, Educational Services Director.
Instead, almost all secondary schools have special curricula, and the schools located in the city centre attract pupils from suburbs by offering ”unusual” languages.
In Helsinki, there are some districts in which more than half of the children attend school elsewhere.
In some instances the curricular differences would appear to be outweighed in the parents' minds by considerations such as the number of immigrants in the local school, or subjective views of the aschool's reputation.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Not every family in the capital is willing to put the kids into the local school (24.1.2012)
A school without any traditional Finnish surnames (10.5.2011)
Helsinki parents at pains to avoid schools with high proportion of immigrants (3.5.2011)
Helsinki seeks to counteract social differentiation of schools (27.10.2009)
City of Helsinki Education Department
National Board of Education