Government funding and refugee migration in Nordic region


Photo: DFID

Our review of education news this week focuses on Nordic countries, where issues of government funding and the migration of refugees figure prominently. This brief scan shows that for countries such as Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the influx of refugees has implications for the classroom. For example, Norway is launching an innovation competition to teach Syrian refugee children to read. As The Nordic Page reports:

Norway is fronting an initiative to develop a smartphone application that can help Syrian children to learn how to read, and improve their psychosocial wellbeing. This will take the form of an international innovation competition in cooperation with Norwegian and international partners.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, also recently announced that Norway will double its support for education between 2013 and 2017. In a statement published on, Solberg stated:

The gap in education funding is vast. Reaching the new goals will require concerted efforts and major investments. National governments must lead the way. Innovative partnerships, including partnerships with the private sector, will play an important part. A crucial outcome of the Oslo summit on education in July was the launch of the International Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities, which was welcomed by the UN Secretary-General. 

Similarly, Sweden has recently announced the addition of $3 billion to its national budget, intended to address education and housing issues, and to restore a welfare system that many feel has been depleted in recent years; however, at the same time the country has seen an unprecedented number of 6,901 people seeking asylum in just one week’s time—3,467 of them from Syria. As Reuters reports,

Local authorities will get more than 1 billion crowns extra for integrating refugees this year, with government also increasing spending to support refugee children in school. Total spending on refugees will rise to 19.4 billion crowns in 2016 out of a total budget of around 920 billion and up from an estimated 17.4 billion this year.

In contrast, Finland is grappling with a strong opposition to the influx in refugees, as well as controversial cuts to the education budget. According to The Helsinki Times, these cuts will have implications across all levels of education, but for primary education it will call particular attention to:

…the appropriations for the reduction of class sizes in primary schools. Terhi Päivärinta, a director at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, believes it is consequently possible that class sizes will grow in some municipalities.

In each of these countries, plans for increases or decreases to educational funding were in the works long before this refugee crisis began. As they are now being implemented under somewhat different circumstances, it will be interesting to see how they unfold in the next weeks and months.

Deirdre Faughey

Lead the Change Interview with Miriam Ben-Peretz

Miriam Ben-Peretz is Professor Emerita at the Faculty of Education at the University of Haifa. She has been Chair of the Department of Teacher Education and Dean of the School of Education at the University of Haifa, as well as President of Tel-Hai College, and visiting Professor at several universities internationally.

In this interview, which is part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Ben-Peretz shares lessons she has learned from educational change in Israel:

“Educational change in a country like Israel has shown that change has to be all encompassing, implemented by institutional forces such as the Ministry of Education or a board of education in a community. Without the impact of institutional recognition, no state-wide educational change can be implemented, certainly not over time.”

This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently, Lead the Change has also published interviews with Diane Ravitch, and the contributors to Leading Educational Change: Global Issues, Challenges, and Lessons on Whole-System Reform (Teachers College Press, 2013) edited by Helen Janc Malone, have participated in a series of blogs from Education Week.

Scan of Ed News: UK

To follow up on our most recent post with Toby Greany discussing the development of academies in England, we did a quick scan of recent education news from the UK.

Recent reports included a review of funding in England’s free schools (a type of academy), concerns about some schools (particularly faith-based schools) “demanding” money from parents, and questions about whether a plan to extend free childcare to 30 hours a week could end up leading to cut backs in the number of children who can be served.

In Northern Ireland, where %92 of students attend schools with students largely of a single faith, debates have focused on a major report on shared and integrated education. While the government education committee issuing the report said that “every school in Northern Ireland should take part in some form of shared education, as The Belfast Telegraph reported the committee could not resolve all the issues relating to shared and integrated education.

Assessment was in the news in both Scotland as Wales. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she did not want to create “crude league tables”, but plans to introduce new standardized tests in primary and lower secondary schools (national testing for five to 13-year-olds was eliminated in Scotland in 2003). In Wales, the focus has been on the launch of new “Wales-only” qualifying exams in secondary schools. Among other things, those GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exams will have “a greater stress on the functional aspects of language with reading, writing, speaking and listening skills” all counting towards the final grade. Relatedly, in Ireland, the Central Application Office (responsible for overseeing the application process for most undergraduate places) will be making changing in the points system it uses. At least in part, the change is designed to reduce the number of applicants tying on same score.

Recent news also includes concerns about a teacher shortage in Northern Scotland and as well as questions about the value of “exporting” Irish teachers to the UK. As The Independent put it, “It has cost the Irish taxpayer millions to educate them but last week hundreds of Irish teachers began their careers – in British classrooms….” 


The 60% extra funds enjoyed by England’s free school pupils, The Guardian

Schools ‘demand money from parents’ – BBC News

Free childcare scheme ‘could backfire’ in schools – BBC News


Shared education: Northern Ireland Assembly committee backs expansion –BBC News

Stormont report urges increase in shared education, Belfast Telegraph

Authors propose 35-year road map to prosperity and social justice in North, The Irish Times


Scottish education: The return of standardised testing? BBC News

Northern Scotland suffering teacher shortage with 300 posts unfilled, The Guardian


Overhaul of CAO points will see average scores drop for school leavers, The Independent

Educated for export: young Irish teachers making a buck in UK, The Independent


‘Exciting’ new Wales-only GCSEs are launched, BBC News

First Minister praises new education plan, The Barry Gem

How are academies, academy chains, and the “self-improving school system” developing in England? A podcast with Toby Greany

Toby Greany

Toby Greany

In this podcast, Toby Greany, Professor of Leadership and Innovation at the UCL Institute of Education in London, highlights some of the recent developments in the English government’s embrace of “academies” and “academy chains” (akin to charter schools and charter management organizations in the US). In the process, Greany discusses some of the challenges to developing what David Hargreaves has called a “self-improving” school system. In a series of papers, Hargreaves argues that in a system like England’s where schools have a high degree of autonomy and where the number of academies and chains are increasing, schools need to work in deep partnership with one another if all schools are to be successful.

In the podcast, Greany begins by briefly describing the roots of school autonomy in England in the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the launch of the “academy movement.” While the previous Labour government had initiated the academies as a relatively small-scale approach to address chronic underperformance in deprived city schools, the Conservative-led Coaliton government rocket-boosted the movement with the passage of the Academies Act in 2010. The Academies Act allowed any school that was identified as Good or Outstanding by the English school inspectors (Ofsted) to convert to an academy. As an academy, rather than getting funding from the local authorities, funding comes direct from the national government. Further, rather than being subject to local oversight, academies have additional “freedoms” or “autonomies”: these include the freedom to develop their own curriculum and the freedom to hire teachers who have not gone through England’s process for teacher certification (which has also been substantially revised in recent years). While more successful schools can choose to convert to academy status, schools deemed underperforming are forced to become sponsored academies, effectively meaning that they are taken over and run by an academy chain (technically called a Multi-Academy Trust, MAT). These academy chains can be run by philanthropists, universities or any other credible organization, but the most common sponsors now tend to be other successful schools. In such a favorable environment, some academy chains in England have grown considerably in only a matter of two or three years, when networks in the US have taken ten to fifteen years to reach the same size. While there have been some early positive reports, numerous questions remain about the effectiveness of the academy chains.

In describing more recent developments, Greany builds on a set of blogs that he wrote last year in which he outlined several of the challenges to developing a self-improving system and laid out two possible scenarios for the future. One scenario is unbridled competition in which every school is essentially out for itself (Greany punctuates the scenario by likening it to the “post-apocalyptic” scenes in Mortal Engines, a series of books from Philip Reeve, in which London is the first city to move itself onto wheels so that it can devour other cities). Greany describes the second scenario as looking more like the Tour de France in which there is competition between networks of schools just as there is between teams of cyclists, but there is also collaboration within each network.

Drawing on his latest research as well as a report to the select committee of Parliament that was looking into the growth and effectiveness of the academies, Greany describes some hybrid developments where there may be both competition and collaboration between schools and networks simultaneously. Looking towards the future, Greany highlights that much more work needs to be done to figure out what a good network or chain of academies looks like and that important questions about the democratic legitimacy of the academy approach still needs to be addressed. As he concludes, “ultimately, how parents feel about this system seems to be a question we’re not thinking enough about.”

Podcast with Toby Greany: Complete Toby Greany Interview

On the beginnings of autonomy and academies in England:

“The story in England goes back to 1988 and the Education Reform Act that year which effectively gave schools much greater decision-making rights…”


On the self-improving school system and the challenges to it:

“If you have a system of 21,000 autonomous schools can they – individually – all aspire to be and do they all have the capacity to be Outstanding and great schools in their own right?…”  



On recent developments: 

“I think what we’re seeing is differential development…” 


On academy chains:

“There have been some interesting developments at the policy level which I think have helped mitigate some of the worst excesses of things that were happening in the two or three years after the 2010 election…” 


Two scenarios:

“Municipal darwinism” or the “Tour de France”—and how they are playing out today


One “potentially interesting” example of collaboration across networks in one community:

“We’ll do it in a way that tries to exemplify moral purpose and actually get the best outcomes particularly for the most disadvantaged children…”


Looking toward the future:


Scan of education news: Asia

Photo: Nguyen Thi Hoang Yen

Photo: Nguyen Thi Hoang Yen

As we return from hiatus and schools in the US open their doors again, our latest scan looks over the recent education news in East Asia. This quick scan reveals a of variety concerns with the extent and quality of education. Reports include those focusing on the long-standing need to ensure that all school-age students are enrolled in and attend schools in Pakistan and the Philippines. Reports also address continuing attacks on girls and girls’ education in Afghanistan. Other reports describe what some have called a “problematic” college admissions process in Vietnam, and, even in South Korea, often touted as a high-performing system, there are concerns about changing populations, particularly in rural villages, and related school closings. Several broad efforts to improve education systems are also in the news, including a “blueprint” in Malaysia focusing on the quality of graduates, a “radical” school reform in Taiwan, a new education programme from the education and training ministry in Vietnam, and a general drive to improve education in Pakistan and prepare students for the knowledge economy.

Why 25 million children are out of school in Pakistan – The Express Tribune

#AkoSiDaniel Campaign Aims to Empower Children in the Philippines Through Education The World Post

Girls’ education under attack: Over 100 Afghan schoolgirls poisoned Daily Pakistan

Vietnam’s education minister takes responsibility for problematic college admission process, Tuoi Tre News

As South Korean Villages Empty, More Primary Schools Face Closings, New York Times

Malaysian Education Blueprint focuses on quality of graduates – Minister, Astro Awani

Education and training ministry unveils new education programme – VietNam News

Pakistan launches drive to improve education system, The Daily Times

Creative demand: Taiwan says radical school reform will set it apart, Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan: Progressive Education Reform Unrepresented Nations And Peoples Organization, UNPO

Summer break

Here at IEN we are taking a short break at the end of summer so that we can gear up for the new school year. Please check back with us in September when we will share new posts on topics ranging from academy schools in England to the improvement effort in Ontario and the push for creativity in Singapore. As always, we will continue to share links to international news articles from around the world on Twitter.



Following up on test results in Vietnam

Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach

Photo: Dao Ngoc Thach

In this brief post we follow up with Duy Pham on the issue of testing in Vietnam. When we last spoke with Pham, who is a former Deputy Director of the Center of Educational Measurement, of the Institute for Education Quality Assurance, at Vietnam National University, and curent doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amhersthe explained that this year Vietnam introduced a new assessment that combined two purposes: high school graduation and university entrance.

The Ministry of Education and Training has released the results of the new assessment. The results show that the high school graduation rate dropped by 8% (from 99% in 2014 to 91% in 2015). According to, “Of the 816,830 students who sat the high school examinations in July 68,700 failed, for a pass rate of 91.58 per cent, a 7.44 per cent decline compared to 2014 and some 6 per cent less than in 2012 and 2013. Students in high schools passed at a rate of 93.42 per cent while the pass rate for those in continuing education was 70.08 per cent.” Ministry officials attributed this drop in the pass rate to the increased quality of the new assessments.

For more information:

High school graduation ratio reached 91.58% nationwide (link in Vietnamese)

Educators lament as Vietnamese students score poorly in national English test

Educators say national-exam failure rate shows better discipline, less cheating

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