The beginning of the school year is a happy time for many children and young people. However, for too many pupils, returning to school means experiences of bullying, repeated or prolonged absences or a feeling that they are not getting support for learning. These challenges are also linked to one another.
In early autumn, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) will publish three evaluations on topical themes of pupils’ wellbeing and support for learning. The reports due deal with the functionality of anti-bullying methods and methods that improve the disciplinary climate as well as with engaging school community work aimed at preventing absences from school and repairing the damage caused by them. In addition, FINEEC will publish an evaluation of preparatory education and instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue, the demand for which has suddenly increased because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Shared practices important in anti-bullying work – however, pupils partly unsure about how cases of bullying are dealt with
For the first time, FINEEC has assessed the functionality of the anti-bullying methods used in basic education. Seven different anti-bullying methods were selected for the evaluation from 27 applications.
According to the results, schools are mainly satisfied with the anti-bullying methods they use, and the operating practices have become part of their school culture. Based on the evaluation results, pupils are also mainly happy with how anti-bullying work is carried out in schools. However, pupils do not always know how the cases of bullying are dealt with once they have been brought to the attention of the adults in the school. What is challenging about anti-bullying work in schools is that the adults in the school often do not notice bullying.
– If pupils do not know how bullying is intervened in, they do not necessarily tell the adults about the bullying they see or experience. Schools must pay special attention to communicating clearly to both pupils and guardians that schools are willing to intervene in the situation and have the means to do it, describes Senior Evaluation Advisor Niina Rumpu.
Although school staff, pupils and guardians are mainly satisfied with anti-bullying work, continuous development of the operating practices is needed. Special attention must be paid to ensuring that subtle, indirect bullying is also systematically intervened in.
– Some pupils feel that teachers do not necessarily take the situations seriously enough or do not take them further. The pupils are also afraid of telling teachers about bullying for fear of it getting worse, Rumpu says.
According to the evaluation results, pupils find it more difficult to tell adults about bullying that has taken place online or in the social media than about bullying that has taken place at school.
– School staff brought up how difficult it is to notice online bullying from the outside. Building a positive interactive relationship and trust between pupils and teachers and reinforcing the inclusion of pupils are therefore key to succeeding in anti-bullying work, Rumpu emphasises.
The publication event of the evaluation of methods that prevent bullying and improve wellbeing and the disciplinary climate will be held from 12.00 to 15.30 on 24 August.
Important to communicate clearly to guardians about operating practices related to absences
In the project on engaging school community work, FINEEC has assessed the practices used in preventing and intervening in absences from school and the related local and national development work.
There are many reasons for school absences, such as challenges related to the atmosphere in the school and the school culture, problems with learning, the pupil’s psychological problems, the conditions at home or difficulties in relationships with friends. Bullying is one of the reasons that make engaging in schoolwork more difficult for pupils and cause absences.
When creating support measures, cooperation between the pupil, the guardians and school staff and often cooperation with other authorities is required. The first signs of problems with school attendance are often noticed at home, and guardians should therefore be encouraged to bring up their concerns at an early stage.
– In the past few years, education providers and schools have developed operating models for intervening in absences. According to the evaluation results, guardians are not sufficiently familiar with the operating models that are used. They hoped to get clearer instructions from schools for what to do in absence situations, says Senior Evaluation Advisor Eeva-Liisa Markkanen.
Challenges with the regular school attendance of their own child are often extremely stressful and concerning for guardians. Uncertainty about the school’s operating practices and the available support may lead to a situation in which the guardians approve the child’s absence even if there is not an acceptable reason behind it. In that case, the school does not become aware of the possibility that there may be wider problems behind the absence.
– Especially now that the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19 have increased absences and weakened pupils’ wellbeing in many ways, it is important to understand the monitoring of absences as a way of supporting pupils’ wellbeing. In other words, it is not a question of control, but early identification of potential problems. Perhaps the perspective could be shifted to supporting attendance instead of intervening in absences, in which case we would move from a problem-centred approach towards positive goals, Markkanen suggests.
However, great variation in intervening in absences and launching support measures was observed between education providers in the evaluation. A large number of development needs were identified in the monitoring of absences and the statistics on them. An interim report on the Evaluation of engaging school community work will be published on 7 September 2022.
Cooperation of school staff increases opportunities to respond to pupils’ support needs in preparatory education and in instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue
Cooperation and a positive attitude to school are also strongly related to the preparatory education of pupils with immigration background and to instruction of their own mother tongue.
The results of FINEEC’s evaluation show that internal cooperation in the school is important for preparatory education and for instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue. However, teachers carry out cooperation with the rest of the school staff fairly rarely because there are not always enough opportunities or resources for it. The scarce opportunities for cooperation in instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue are often due to the fact that the teaching is organised outside school hours or not in the pupil’s neighbourhood school.
– The teacher or teaching assistant resources are often insufficient in the preparatory education groups, which are often diverse with regard to pupils’ ages and levels of skills, and the teachers are concerned about not having time to provide individual support to the pupils, says Senior Evaluation Advisor Salla Venäläinen.
Cooperation of teachers in preparatory education especially with special needs teachers, teachers of Finnish as a second language, resource teachers, teachers of general education, teaching assistants and interpreters promotes the implementation of teaching and provides opportunities to support pupils. Teachers of the pupil’s own mother tongue would also like to see more opportunities for cooperation so that tips for teaching could be shared and pupils’ need for support could be discussed.
A Finnish language test was also organised as part of the evaluation to determine the abilities of pupils in preparatory education to study in Finnish. Enjoying school and a willingness to learn have a positive impact on learning the Finnish language. Therefore, supporting a positive attitude to school is also important from this point of view.
The report on the Evaluation of preparatory education and instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue will be published in August/September 2022.
For more information about the evaluations, please contact:
Evaluation of methods that prevent bullying and improve wellbeing and the disciplinary climate:
- Niina Rumpu, Senior Evaluation Advisor, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 29 533 5525
- project website (in Finnish)
Evaluation of engaging school community work:
- Eeva-Liisa Markkanen, Senior Evaluation Advisor, email@example.com, tel. +358 29 533 5540
- project website (in Finnish)
Evaluation of preparatory education and instruction in the pupil’s own mother tongue:
- Salla Venäläinen, Head of Unit for General Education, firstname.lastname@example.org, , tel. +358 29 533 5549
- project website (in English)