Center on International Education Benchmarking

Finland: System and School Organization

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

Education Finance

Education in Finland is free to all beginning at the voluntary pre-primary level and continuing through upper secondary school, although students may accrue fees for extracurricular morning and afternoon activities. Funding responsibilities are divided between the federal and municipal governments with the federal government assuming about 57% of the financial burden of schools and municipal authorities assuming the remaining 43%. There are very few private schools in Finland; those that exist are granted the same government funds as public schools, and are required to use the same admissions standards and provide the same services as public schools. The majority of the private schools in Finland are religious.  The amount of federal money given to each municipality is determined by the number of students and an annually calculated unit cost per student. In 2011, Finland spent  $12,545 per student in lower secondary school, as compared to the OECD average of $9,377. Total spending on education represented 6.5% of Finland’s GDP in 2011, compared to 5.9% of the GDP in 2008. The average across OECD countries was also 6.1% in 2011, up only slightly from 5.9% in 2008. Therefore, spending on education in Finland increased more rapidly than the OECD average during the Great Recession.

School Management and Organization

The Ministry of Education and Culture oversees all publicly funded education, including the development of the national core curriculum through The Finnish National Board of Education and the accreditation of teacher training programs. Below the national level, Regional State Administrative Agencies and Centres for Economic Development oversee education.

At the local level, the authority comes from the Regional State Administrative Agencies and the Centres for Economic Development. The local government is responsible for providing basic education (grades 1-9) in 3,100 schools, 45% of which teach fewer than 100 students. However, larger schools exist, with the largest comprehensive schools enrolling more than 900 students. For upper secondary education, the Ministry of Education and Culture provides licenses to local authorities, municipal authorities and registered associations and foundations to establish schools.

Schools are managed by the teachers and staff. The local municipal authority in any given region appoints principals for six- or seven-year terms, but apart from this appointment, they largely leave the running of the school to the principal and his or her teachers. Principals are responsible for managing the school staff, ensuring the well-being and success of the students, and managing the school budget, although they do this generally in collaboration with the teachers.

Parent and Community Participation

The education of Finnish children is widely considered to be a collective responsibility. In the 1960s and 70s, Finland’s various political parties reached the consensus that all students should be educated together in a common school system, a departure from what up to that point had been a parallel system of vocational schools and academic schools. From that point on, there has been a strong link between Finnish schools and the communities that they serve. Parents are expected to take an active interest in their child’s performance, and teachers are held accountable to community standards and values.

Parents are expected to be involved in their children’s education; their level of participation can range from transporting their children to school (Finland has no school bussing system) to volunteering at school events to sitting on the school board (each school’s board requires the participation of five parents). However, unlike in many of the other top-performing countries, students are expected to develop a strong degree of independence at an early age, and to take responsibility for their own learning. While parents are expected to be involved in their children’s education, they are not expected to be in charge of it. From a young age, children are expected to get themselves to and from school, and at the upper secondary level, they have a great deal of freedom in determining the content of their programs.

Annual Expenditure by Educational Institutions per Student for All Services

(2013, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, by level of education for public institutions only) Source: OECD

Accountability and Incentive Systems

Finland used to have a central education inspectorate in charge of evaluating school performance, but this has been replaced by a National Evaluation Council. This council, however, differs from an education inspectorate in that it serves to evaluate national policies rather than individual school performance. Schools are only formally evaluated periodically, with an exam administered to a sample of students in grades 6 and 9. Teachers are expected to use professional judgment and discretion, take collective responsibility for the education of their students and be accountable to their peers.


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