Results of the Finnish education evaluation: Although the majority enjoy school, a slight increase in competence differences overshadows equality

The learner’s path begins from early childhood education and care, in which the most important objectives are to promote the learning capabilities and wellbeing of children and prevent their marginalisation. In basic education, competence differences between pupils are slightly on the increase. This is influenced by factors such as differences in the guardians’ educational backgrounds. The guidance from basic education to upper secondary education is mainly found to be good. In higher education, flexible study paths can serve as a way of promoting equality.

On 3 November 2020, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) published a summary that builds a picture of the national state of education, level of competence, equality and wellbeing. The publication is mainly based on the evaluation reports drawn up by FINEEC over the past couple of years. Every year, thousands of experts, students and pupils from early childhood education and care (ECEC) and from education and training participate in FINEEC’s national evaluations. Evaluation data is used to support the smoothness and equality of the learner’s path.

Aiming at high-quality early childhood education and care

The quality of early childhood education and care varies in Finland and the content-related objectives of the National Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Education and Care are not always achieved. FINEEC aims to promote the provision of high-quality early childhood education and care and has published national quality indicators for this purpose. The indicators describe what high-quality early childhood education and care in the best interest of the child should be like. Currently, a quality evaluation system and related evaluation tools are being developed to support providers.

According to the evaluation results, children who had participated not only in pre-primary education but also in other early childhood education and care had better skills in mathematics and mother tongue than children who had participated in pre-primary education only. Full-time early childhood education and care at ECEC centres benefits especially children who have several factors linked to a low starting level in their life, such as close relatives diagnosed with learning difficulties. FINEEC recommends that pre-primary education be developed towards full-time pre-primary education.

Conditions related to financial support for childcare may hinder situations in which some of the children in the same family are cared for at home and some attend early childhood education and care. To increase participation in early childhood education and care, the barriers to participation currently existing in the childcare system must be removed as much as possible.

Differences between girls and boys increase during school years

Competence differences between pupils are slightly on the increase in basic education. The number of pupils with the poorest and the best skills is increasing, and their competences are differentiating. There are great differences in the skills of girls and boys especially in mother tongue at the end of the ninth grade: girls are strongly represented in the quarter with the strongest skills and boys in the one with the poorest skills.

However, the skills of girls and boys who started in the first grade were at the same level in the first few weeks in the evaluation conducted in 2018. FINEEC monitors the development of the skills of the same group of pupils in a longitudinal evaluation in the third, sixth and ninth grade. At the same time, it is possible to see whether teaching in accordance with the current curriculum is successful in levelling out gender differences in competence.

Increasing inequality has been observed in evaluations at different levels of education. There is a strong link between guardians’ educational background and pupils’ skills. Children of parents with a higher education degree have better competence at the beginning of the first grade than children of parents with a low level of education. The difference is also visible in the ninth grade. Competence differences in different subjects are also explained by factors such as the learner’s gender, attitudes and language background.

Within the largest cities, clear differences between schools are also visible in pupils’ skills as early as at the beginning of basic education. In the assessment of learning outcomes in mathematics, it was observed that differences between schools were increasing slightly also at the final stage of comprehensive school.  It is important to target sufficient resources to preventing regional differentiation so that differences between schools do not increase.

The curriculum reform as well as the changes in the population and school structure and the limited resources have created pressure for changes in municipalities. The local government finances have been tight during the implementation of the curricula. FINEEC’s evaluations have revealed that municipalities have patched up the cuts made by central government through their own funding and ECEC units and schools have to work with very different resources. For example, the differences in the number of lessons offered by municipalities have increased. Furthermore, the staff has not always had enough time to familiarise themselves with the curricula.

The majority enjoys school – experiences of bullying are reflected in how students start their studies after basic education

According to the evaluation of the working atmosphere and safe learning environment, the majority of teachers and pupils enjoy school and more than 90% of pupils felt safe during lessons, breaks and on their way to and from school. However, more than 10% of pupils felt lonely at least once a week. Furthermore, approximately one or two out of one hundred pupils are bullied at school on a daily basis, and boys are more often the target of bullying than girls.

The evaluation of the transition point between basic education and secondary education investigated how well guidance for career choices and studies in secondary education worked in basic education and how well the guidance provided at the initial stage of the studies works in secondary education and in training provided at the transition point. It was observed that the availability of guidance is mainly at a good level in basic education, upper secondary education and VET. However, guidance in groups, peer support from pupils and the opportunities provided by digitalisation should be used as part of the guidance more actively.

Experiences of bullying and difficulties related to learning are reflected in how young people start their studies after basic education. Those who had been repeatedly bullied in comprehensive school found more often than other students that they were not encouraged sufficiently to reflect on the different study choices available and that the guidance counsellors did not have enough time to talk to them. They also had more problems in engaging in their studies in secondary education than other students.

Pupil and student welfare plays an important part in supporting wellbeing. FINEEC has assessed the implementation of the Pupil and Student Welfare Act in pre-primary and basic education, general upper secondary education and VET. The evaluation revealed that pupil and student welfare has in many respects become more effective as a result of the Pupil and Student Welfare Act. However, student welfare and paying attention to the learner are not evenly implemented at different levels of education.

The Finnish education system does not prepare immigrants sufficiently for higher education

The provision of literacy training for immigrants works well in liberal adult education. However, the target group of the training, the guidance practices and the responsibilities for the provision are not well established.

The number of students with an immigrant background is still low in higher education, which indicates that the Finnish education system is not able to provide them with sufficient abilities for studies in higher education.

In higher education, equality and accessibility can be promoted with flexible study paths. Changes in legislation have made cross-institutional studies possible and created preconditions for the cooperation of upper secondary schools and higher education institutions. According to FINEEC’s evaluations, however, further work is required in the practical implementation and monitoring of smooth study paths.

Evaluation and research data needed in decision-making

The development of the education system must be based on a long-term vision, systematic evaluation of education and research. Knowledge about how equality and equity are realised as well as knowledge about children and young people’s growth and the development of their competence is required for decision-making and development work.

The responsibility for the development education and the promotion of equality in Finland is divided between many levels. FINEEC is the main producer of information. It examines the functioning and quality of the education system at all levels of education in its evaluations and also supports participation and interaction between different actors.

– The learners’ voice is heard in the evaluations and learners are engaged in the development of education. The evaluation data is used to support the activities of ECEC providers and education providers, cooperation and the smoothness of the learner’s path. The leading principle in the activities is enhancement-led evaluation, explains Harri Peltoniemi, Director of FINEEC.

Further information:

Harri Peltoniemi, Director of FINEEC, harri.peltoniemi @, +358 29 533 5532

Elina Harjunen, Head of Unit, elina.harjunen @, +358 29 533 5506 – General education and early childhood education

Kirsi Hiltunen, Head of Unit, kirsi.hiltunen @, +358 29 533 5508 – Vocational education

Helka Kekäläinen, Head of Unit, helka.kekalainen @, +358 29 533 5513 – Higher education and liberal adult education


Results of national evaluation activities regarding the state of the education system 2020 (in Finnish)