ICP 2015 Biennial Conference focused on the theme 'Leading Educational Design,' with a programme to guide delegates to 'observe, reflect and think about educational systems in new and innovative ways.'
1,200 delegates gathered from ICP's worldwide membership, including 200 representatives from school leadership in China. Other large representation was evident from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and from Finland, the host country. Very few delegates attended from the UK.
At the Opening Ceremony, High school pupils from the specialist Sibelius Music School performed instrumental, choral and dance items of an exceptionally high standard, which reflected the national priority and importance of music and the arts in Finnish culture and school life.
The Opening Day Keynote address from Andre Noel Chaker outlined 'The Finnish Miracle' - a theme which was repeated by later speakers.
The Finnish Education system is internationally recognised as being one of the best in the world, consistently heading the PISA rankings for Reading, Maths and Science. Finland has a broad and balanced curriculum and school experience for both children, staff and the parental community, resulting in the very high status and regard that the teaching profession holds in Finnish society. Finland is recognised as being a very competitive county, with an emphasis on high standards, whilst also being one of the least corrupt and 'happiest' countries in the world.
The focus on promoting equity within Finnish society starts with the earliest possible intervention to recognise and compensate for disadvantage, achieved through sustained investment and funding for schools. The resulting outcomes include a continual focus on high standards in basic skills which is evidenced by all Finns who learn to speak both English and Russian in addition to Finnish. All delegates repeatedly commented on the widespread hospitality, politeness and willingness to engage in conversation in very, very good English shown by the Helsinki population.
There were seven keynote addresses from a variety of international speakers, most of which brought their research and academic material to be shared and explored with the delegates in each session. Some of these presentations deliberately resulted in lengthy debate with delegates, where the link between policy making, research and practice was clear to all. It was good to see academics testing out their thoughts clearly within a participative forum.
Pasi Sahlberg's keynote address emphasised five main factors which lie behind a nation's successful school system, with reference to his best-selling publication 'Finnish Lessons.'
Interestingly, these are:
- Fair school funding
- Early childhood education
- Preventive special education
- School health and wellbeing
- Whole child approach
These factors are mirrored in John Hattie's work on 'Invisible Learning' which also emphasises that the highest performing education systems are those which combine excellence with equity.
Some of the presentations are available on the conference website:
In addition to the full keynote presentations, a very comprehensive series of approaching 50 workshop sessions provided the opportunity for delegates to network and share common experience, whilst engaging with very good presenters from Finland and abroad. A key new feature for ICP 2015 were 14 research orientated/scientific programme opportunities for broad-ranging discussion.
All delegates were invited to attend and participate in the SINO-Finnish Forum which explored the continuing common agenda for both systems to reinforce the importance of teaching and learning, along with promoting effective school leadership and a continual focus on professional development.
NAHT's continued membership of the European School Heads' Association (ESHA) was reinforced in a joint presentation with ICP, where both Presidents stressed the importance of working together to identify and explore new ways of making school leadership effective, through building collaborative networks which can exchange ideas, research and best practice. Clive Byrne, ESHA President, is keen to develop Erasmus+ (European Commission Funding for training and development) with wider global partnerships where possible. PISA continues to challenge national governments in how they measure and hold systems to account - both associations recognise that greater acknowledgement of school context needs to be included within any accountability process. A first joint statement from ESHA / ICP has been agreed to highlight that all schools need to be recognised for their work and role in promoting their settings as safe, non-violent environments, which are one of the few safe places for all children, particularly in times of economic recession.
To conclude, some Conference thoughts and messages:
- Should we fix the old or design a new (school system)
- Sitting is the new smoking
- Why gender equality does matter in educational improvement
- Trust is the balm that makes your society grow faster
- The children must play
Chris Harrison and Tim Bowen