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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Excellence through special education? Lessons from the Finnish school reform

Volume 53,  2007; Page 283–302
Kari Ruoho, Joel Kivirauma

Policies of educational reform in Finland have been vindicated by 2000 and 2003 PISA results, which show that Finnish students obtained the highest scores of any OECD country in literacy, maths and science. The PISA results also revealed that Finland has among the lowest variation in student performance of any country, and that demographic, economic and cultural variables exert below-average impact on student results. In many cases the scores of Finnish ‘low achievers’ were higher than the mean scores of students in other countries. Because special education is responsible for helping poorly performing students, Finland’s comparatively low range of negative deviation from mean scores has been partially attributed to the unique Finnish system of special education. Since the 1960s, students identified as having special education needs (SEN) have been included in generalised education settings and provided with part-time special education support. In order to sustain this arrangement, administrators and politicians have developed a new curriculum based on individualised education. A teacher training system and part-time special education training program provide the institutional support for these changes. Part-time special education is heavily focused on early intervention and prevention, with almost 50 per cent of SEN resources allocated to the first three grades of primary school. The system is also heavily language centred, reflecting a conviction that language capabilities affect other areas of schooling. From the 1970s to the 1990s the number of students involved in part-time special education increased dramatically as a result of increased effort to diagnose and address learning difficulties in schools. In 2003 almost 18 per cent of Finnish children in comprehensive schools were classified as SEN compared with 5.3 per cent in Germany, reflecting a cultural paradigm in which Finnish students perceive a ‘right’ to receive individual special support in their own schools. The part-time program also reflects an underlying assumption that learning difficulties are temporary and can be overcome. This inclusive system is underpinned by a societal value system of collective responsibility; however, new policies emphasising competition and individualism continually threaten to overturn this approach. The PISA results are therefore relevant, as they demonstrate that inclusive and equity-focused education does not preclude high achievement.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Educational evaluation
Individualised instruction
Special education

Self-evaluation and Ofsted inspection: developing an integrative model of school improvement

Volume 35 Number 3,  2007; Pages 373–93
David Plowright

The article reports on a case study and earlier research covering ways to generate and monitor school improvement. The school examined is a large, mixed comprehensive in a medium-sized town in England. Individual and group interviews were conducted with members of the school leadership team and with the heads of department for English, maths and science. The study identified a tension between the push for genuine improvement of a school’s academic results and internal processes, and a school’s formal accountability to the government, which in this case took the form of an official Ofsted evaluation in 2002. Although this evaluation stimulated internal attention on the school’s performance, middle-level staff interpreted the school’s response as a formalistic effort to meet requirements in which ‘positives’ were highlighted and problems concealed from the Ofsted inspectors. One middle-level staff member said, ‘we’re just motivated for them to go away and not come back’. Members of the school leadership team described difficulties in inducing teachers to link their individual professional learning to overall school improvement, and said that they struggled to give their staff time to reflect on this process. The author concludes that education systems should encourage schools to become reflective and self-evaluating, while schools themselves need to integrate the processes of internal evaluation with external accountability requirements. Other research, by K Pocklington and D Weindling, suggests that external facilitators in a school may be more effective than official government inspections in achieving school improvement. Researchers Christine Wise and Alma Harris each suggest that heads of department may be an underutilised resource in the school improvement process. The article is framed within a discussion of the concept of the 'learning organisation'.


Subject Headings

Great Britain
School principals
School leadership
School culture
Educational evaluation
Education policy

Gauging growth: how to judge No Child Left Behind?

Volume 36 Number 5, 14 June 2007; Page 268–78
Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn Gesicki, Erin Kang

Academic results in reading and maths for Grade 4 students in the USA have failed to rise, or have risen more slowly, since the introduction of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reforms in 2002. The authors analysed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and state data 1992–2006. Fourth Grade data were selected for study since NAEP is available for them since the early 1970s and their progress has historically been higher than that of older US students. In terms of reading, mean NAEP scores ‘climbed about one grade level between 1971 and 2004’, half of which occurred between 1999 and 2002, apparently as a result of state-level policy decisions and accountability efforts. However, ‘growth flattened out in fourth grade over the three years after enactment of NCLB’. In maths, gains have continued at a slower rate. Fourth Grade students performed two grade levels higher in 2004 than 1973, with half of this gain achieved between 1999 and 2004, but this achievement may represent the momentum of state level reforms as 2003–04 was the first full year of NCLB ‘rules and sanctions’. According to NAEP figures, the achievement gap between black and white students was reduced sharply from between the early 1970s to the early 2000s, but ‘no progress has occurred since 2002 in closing Black-White or Latino-White gaps’. The researchers also studied state-level test results in 12 diverse US states. However, the analysis of state-level test results is impeded by the nature of, and changes to, the tests used. For example, tests with low ‘cut points’ exaggerate gains by low achievers relative to other students. Also, because teachers tend to prepare students for current tests, results tend to drop immediately after a new type of test is introduced, creating a ‘sawtooth’ pattern. The use of state-level results would be helped by a national benchmark for proficiency and by more information supplied by states about the impact of changing demographics on state test results.


Subject Headings

Primary education
United States of America (USA)
Educational evaluation
Educational accountability
Education policy

Managing challenging behaviour: how do we help young people with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties?

Volume 11 Number 6, July 2007; Pages 1–3

Certain school policies and procedures are strongly correlated with improved student behaviour. A 2005 Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) report found that although most children behave well, small numbers of misbehaving students impede learning with ‘persistent, low level disruption of lessons that wears down staff and interrupts learning’. Pupils with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties were identified as particularly difficult to manage. Ofsted inspectors identified similarities in the policies of schools that were found to manage behaviour effectively. They observed that students’ learning was best in classrooms where there were clear routines for the start and end of lessons, teachers planned lessons that accounted for different learning abilities and styles, and staff were respectful, non-confrontational and quick to intervene against unacceptable behaviour. Given these findings, administrators are advised to implement the consistent behavioural management policies characteristic of effective schools. Leaders at these schools maintained a visible presence, reassuring teachers by providing support in managing difficult behaviour. The Ofsted data also indicated that, particularly in early years settings, the principal’s promotion of a positive ethos was critical to effective management. Boys’ achievement was found to be particularly strongly correlated with policies that encouraged high standards, insisted on good behaviour and engaged parents. School leaders should create a disciplinary framework supported by effective pastoral care and learning support, implemented with enthusiasm and humour. Such a framework also necessitates thorough commitment to a planned program of staff training, as the report found that behaviour management was less effective where training was reactive to specific incidents. In order to maintain consistency in disciplinary action, induction programs for new staff must include thorough team teaching, mentoring and training. Behavioural policy should also inform curriculum planning. The most effective schools tracked behaviour and learning patterns and used this information to set timetables, organise class groups, and draw attention to subjects where teaching and learning were less effective. Conversely, curriculum planning was found to have dramatic consequences for behaviour, as students’ interest, motivation and behaviour declined in settings with limited or unstimulating curriculum.


Subject Headings

Behavioural problems
School leadership
School culture
School administration
Classroom management
Behaviour management

Creating young independent thinkers

Volume 9 Number 5,  2007; Pages 7–8
John Langrehr

Early childhood is often believed to be too early a time to teach critical and creative thinking. However, research in Sweden has shown that frontal lobe development in young children can be enhanced and accelerated by programs that promote basic thinking skills, and therefore that this period of curiosity and mental flexibility may be ideal for teaching creative thinking. One product designed to do so is the author's program, the John Langrehr Thinking Program (JLTP), a CD-ROM containing 24 interactive stories. The stories involve animated cartoon children who ask each other, or adults, questions that model the use of basic creative and critical thinking skills. After each question, the story is paused for thinking time. The stories cover popular topics for children such as dinosaurs, supermarkets, the sky, things in the garden and pets. Thinking about these topics encourages the perception that it is fun to take risks and be imaginative, curious and critical. Questions posed in the program stimulate different thinking patterns. The question ‘why do insects need six legs and not four?’ encourages the skill of analysing design purpose, whereas questions such as ‘what would be a funny use for a crab’s shell?’ or ‘what can’t you photograph?’ are designed to help the thinker break away from linear, familiar patterns of thinking. These ‘inventive thinking’ questions aim to stimulate creative thinking and risk taking. ‘Inquisitive thinking’ questions include ‘would everyone think dogs make better pets than cats?’, and ‘what are some good things and bad things about killing snakes?’. These questions introduce the concept of opinion and help children to move away from egocentric thought by portraying alternative points of view. Trials of the JLTP in Singapore revealed that students who completed three months of the JLTP scored higher on the Test of Early Childhood Thinking (TECT) than students who had not.


Subject Headings

Thought and thinking
Early childhood education

The Games in Learning project


The Games in Learning project aims to engage students in coursework through the use of video games. Case studies reported on the learning place website illustrate how games can be used to support the curriculum in a variety of contexts. In ‘Take to the Skies’ in 2006, Coolum State High School engaged in a partnership with the LIC Spatial Technologies in Schools project to develop an action learning project to explore the use of Microsoft Flight Simulator in learning. The flight simulator was used in a Year 9 Geography unit on Catchment Care and a SOSE unit on Ancient Egypt, where the three-dimensional explorations of Caloundra and Noosa catchments and the Nile, respectively, helped students gain greater understanding of geospatial phenomena. The flight simulator provoked high interest and intellectually deep discussion in classes, allowing usually hesitant students to interact in rigorous conversations. There are other games that more specifically engage with Ancient Egyptian landscapes and support vistas with appropriate information. Exploring Ancient Wonders is available for free download. At Kurwongbah State School, students played with the game Viva Piñata to learn about ecosystems and environmental sustainability. Students plant seeds and attract wildlife to their virtual garden. Students’ actions in this virtual ecosystem have immediate, observable consequences for wildlife and plants, and students in the project recorded the impact of such changes in journals. Another program, the ‘School of Games’, provides students with vocational training in the games industry through lectures on the history of computer games and genres, seminars in games industry career pathways, and practical training with industry-standard software. Although these programs have predominantly stimulated interest in boys, there are also programs aimed at girls in terms of gaming and game design. Other projects have been designed for special education, utilising the social and interactive functions of games.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
VET (Vocational Education and Training)

Multicultural and international education: never the twain shall meet?

Volume 53 Number 3, May 2007; Page 245–64
Ian Hill

Despite the similarities in purpose and ideology between multicultural state schools and international schools, the research literature relating to these two areas remains disconnected. Multicultural schools serve minority communities within a state, promoting tolerance and diversity while helping minorities adapt to their adopted nations’ culture. Although its existence within a national context requires a degree of pragmatic compliance with national curricular goals and a dominant language for instruction, multicultural education assumes and promotes equality between all cultures. Multicultural education’s historic function of assimilating migrant children into a hegemonic society has therefore been supplanted by more tolerant practices promoting respect for diversity. By contrast, while respect for diversity was the foundational ideology of early international schools, they were sometimes eurocentric and elitist in practice. The first international schools were developed after World War I for the growing mobile populations working in embassies and international companies. Their aim was to promote ideals such as education for peace, intercultural understanding, respect for human dignity and knowledge of international issues. The curricular overlap between international and multicultural education is significant, although this fact is not reflected in the research literature. Both types of schools emphasise intercultural understanding between and within countries, respect for others, and language learning. The intercultural learning link between multicultural and international schools is obscured only by context. In the multicultural school context, intercultural education deals with issues of pluralist society and growing up in a foreign country, whereas the focus of international schools is on integrating students into an international system of world citizens. In both systems, democracy, pluralism, human rights, environmental awareness and conflict resolution are key foci. Researchers should recognise the congruence between these two fields and share their findings accordingly. Strategies used in multicultural classrooms, such as illustrating concepts with ethnographic examples, are clearly relevant to international schools as well, and vice versa. Multicultural school research might be informed by international education’s attempts to eliminate the concept of ‘foreign-ness’. Collaboration between researchers will lead to greater understanding of intercultural educational pedagogies.

Key Learning Areas

Studies of Society and Environment

Subject Headings

International students
International relations
International education
Intercultural studies
Multicultural education

Reflective teachers and teacher educators in the Pacific region: conversations with us not about us

Volume 53 Number 3, May 2007; Pages 303–21
Greg Burnett, Govinda Ishwar Lingam

A study that initially aimed to inform changes to the Bachelor of Education program at the University of the South Pacific (USP) has yielded more significant results concerning education policy in the wider region. About 50 graduates were surveyed about their expectations and experiences of the course and their post-degree employment. The data collected revealed Pacific Island teachers’ perceptions of themselves and their work, and researchers found that these perceptions were widely divergent from dominant educational discourses in the region. Historically, teachers in the region have been silenced within educational discourse by more powerful commentators, including government, non-government agencies and the media. This article describes a post-modernist model of educational discourses in the Pacific region, and argues for greater involvement of teachers in debates concerning their practice. Five discourses are identified as dominant in Pacific education policy making: the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s construction of teaching as a ‘technical’ endeavour bound by curriculum prescriptions, private sector employers’ critique of school education as impractical, the media’s conceptualisation of teaching as a moral pursuit, the ‘Rethinking Pacific Education Initiative’ (RPEI)’s argument for maintenance of Pacific values and knowledge, and UNESCO’s advocacy of ‘quality’ teaching. Data from the USP surveys revealed that teachers’ teaching priorities were different to those discussed in dominant discourses. Teachers’ survey responses revealed desires for professional development, renewed perspective on teaching and personal gains. Teachers from outside Fiji, particularly those from the Solomon Islands, hoped to affect peace and stability in their countries by teaching children civic responsibility. Low pay and low status were frequently cited as incentives for advancing through tertiary study, and many also hoped to rejuvenate their teaching practice with new methods. Fijian teachers also hoped that the degree would improve their chances of migrating to New Zealand. Significantly, these opinions were generally framed in terms of personal needs such as financial gains and personal fulfilment, in contrast with traditional conceptions of teachers as morally driven. Teachers also expressed pedagogical preferences divergent from common discourse, advocating investment in ICT, counselling and reformed school leadership. Teachers’ meta-narratives about teaching give the profession a human face that must inform education policy decisions.


Subject Headings

Pacific region
Pacific Islanders
Teaching profession
Teacher training

What children know and can do when they start school and how this varies between countries

Volume 5,  2007; Pages 115–34
Peter Tymms, Christine Merrell

A recent study has evaluated the cognitive abilities of children starting school in Scotland in comparison with children from England, New Zealand and Western Australia. The study tested vocabulary acquisition, phonological awareness, early reading and early mathematics in children aged 4-6 in their first year of primary school. Children were tested using the PIPS On-entry Baseline Assessment (PIPS-BLA) within the first six weeks of starting compulsory education. The interactive PIPS-BLA program asks children progressively more difficult questions, automatically selecting questions and content areas based on the child's performance. The results of the study of children in Scotland showed that older children and those from more affluent homes generally performed better in mathematics; however, these factors do not entirely explain the extent of variation in ability. The results showed a very weak relationship between students’ participation in preschool and PIPS-BLA scores. There is no statutory requirement for preschool in Scotland, and, depending on parent choice, children attend anywhere from zero to six terms. The relatively inconsequential affect of preschool experience on children’s level of development was particularly surprising given that the same variable in the study in England corresponded directly to PIPS-BLA achievement. The international comparison of PIPS-BLA scores revealed that cognitive growth patterns were generally very similar between Scotland, England, New Zealand and Western Australia, despite differences in the ages children commence school in the four countries. However, the Scottish children who started school in later age categories were found to compare unfavourably with children from the other countries in reading and mathematics. The older Scottish children were when starting school, the greater the discrepancy between them and children of the same age in other countries. Children of all ages in Scotland scored consistently lower than children from other countries in measures of print conceptualisation and letter identification. Further research could examine why preschool experience seems to have such little affect on children’s cognitive development, and why Scottish children who start school later seem to perform at a lower level than children in other countries.

Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Early childhood education

Teaching social skills to kids who don't yet have them

Volume 9 Number 5,  2007; Pages 19–21
Thomas McIntyre

Children with learning disabilities and social skill deficits can frustrate teachers, as they may continue to misbehave even after being corrected. Although these students may know ‘intellectually’ what is expected of them, misbehaviour may have become habit. Teachers should focus on ‘progress rather than perfection’, and encourage social skills through direct instruction. Social competence is linked to peer acceptance, teacher acceptance and post-school success, and it is therefore imperative that children who lack social skills receive help in developing them. Often these students may not view the skills as useful, so teaching social competence can be particularly challenging. A social skills training program might include units on manners, handling frustration and anger, conflict resolution, and for very young children, listening skills and theory of mind. Teachers planning to implement a social skills unit should undertake several strategies to ensure that the program is relevant and enjoyable for children. Prior to implementing social training, identify which students require training through assessment, which behaviours should be taught, and how students will be motivated to participate. ‘Points’ for individuals or groups, raffle tickets, and other rewards will motivate students to attempt new behaviours. Organise students into small groups in which they can observe others and practise behaviours. Identify and reward good behaviour throughout the day so that students recognise that the skills are transferable from class to class, and point out appropriate situations for ‘new’ behaviours as they occur. Provide the major points students should learn on a handout so students can refer back to them, and explain why these skills are useful in terms such as ‘it will help you to avoid trouble with teachers’. It is important, however, that the skills taught to students in class are limited to basic social prerequisites, as more ‘packaged’ social skills programs promote social actions that may be esteemed by adults but ridiculed by mainstream youths. Teaching social skills in class can consume curriculum time in the short term, but as students learn more positive behaviours, class time will become more constructive.


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Social education
Learning problems

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