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Innovations and developments - Finland

The Evaluation of Quality and Processes in Special Needs Education

The Finnish policy of education stresses that the idea of inclusion is important and believes that every pupil must have the opportunity to go to his/her own neighbourhood school. Every school is consequently expected to provide an adequate learning environment for every pupil and it is therefore a big challenge for an individual school to build a full functioning support system for a very heterogeneous group of pupils. It will require a great deal of development work if inclusion is to be incorporated into Finnish schools. In development work we also need tools for internal and external evaluation. Self- evaluation and audition have become common as an apparatus of evaluation in Finnish schools but they must be used systematically and regularly to provide useful information on the quality and content of the basic processes and procedures in school.  By implementing this type of evaluation the opportunity to examine potential and resources during development are provided.

Since January 1999 the Educational Institutions have been obliged to assess their own operations and have been seeking good practices and forms of self-assessment. Some schools have created their own models of assessment and some schools have chosen a standardised model. Standardised models have become more popular because of the possibility of comparing the practices between different schools.

The EFQM Excellence Model is a very commonly used model in the field of education and also the Unit of Evaluation in The Finnish National Board of Education implements it in school auditions. The EFQM- model is based on features of effectiveness, good quality in leadership of and in custom services, strong intention of operations, functions based on facts, intense staff development and participation. It also emphasises life long learning, innovating, enhancing operations, developing companionships and social responsibility.

By implementing the EFQM a school can carefully examine and clarify its own activities. A school has to describe its functions as processes and it has to name the main actors of every process - the owners of the process. These descriptions help the school community to assess if whether or not they are successful. The model is quite laborious to use but by implementing the EFQM the school community supports future development work. When the economical situation in a municipality is difficult a school has to show its value and effectiveness to keep its position. It is not unusual to shut down a school with insignificant results in Finland nowadays. Evaluation-based development strengthens a schools’ profile against other schools.

In SNE there are plenty of processes to assess. For example teaching, learning, rehabilitation services, assisting, day care, morning and afternoon activities and possible residential services are typical processes of a special school. There are state owned special schools and special schools owned by municipalities in Finland. They function as resource centres and support single schools, pupils and their families by providing them information, consultation, special equipment and special learning materials. It is very important to evaluate and develop these processes. 

Schools that have implemented standardised models in self-evaluation and have also participated in external evaluations experience that these measurements give the following benefits:

  • the school community gets into the heart of the process in a neutral way
  • much more consideration is given to pupils
  • false criticism can be disproved and constructive criticism can be taken in use
  • relevant and appropriate practices can be found
  • the school community learns how to use a holistic perspective with development
  • the collaboration between colleagues becomes more concrete
  • a mutual strategy can be found and everyone can easily commit to it
  • a clear policy increases individual freedom and makes the use of innovative solutions possible
  • responsibility for ones own work and responsibility in leadership becomes much clearer
  • the school can create its own system of on-going self-evaluation. 

Different kinds of tools for evaluating quality, efficiency and processes serve assessment practices in individual schools. This kind of analysis points out the most challenging and demanding situations in every day school life and especially discovering the circumstances which need to be improved concerning pupils with special needs is valuable. The tools of evaluation presented elsewhere in this report also include features of assessment such as assessment of teachers’ and assistants’ work in the schools. Evaluation builds a basis and framework for the assessment processes in schools. To create effective pupil assessment and the assessment of learning difficulties as efficiently as possible we have to be aware of how to implement assessment as an organisation and as individual workers.

An Example of an Organisational Project in a Finnish Special School 

The leadership of this special school was earlier divided up into different operations. It was decided to replace this type of leadership with a management style of process leadership. This decision was an fundamental part of the school’ s on-going project of developing leadership in a multi-professional working community.

The main goal of the project is to integrate a pupils’ school day. Pupils with special educational needs need to have a school day which constitutes a continuum of learning, training, rehabilitation, rest and activities. Every school class has a multi-professional team of different therapists and teachers. The leaders of the developing project are collaborating intensively with these school class teams. They discuss the problems which rise from every day practices and they also work together to find solutions to various challenging situations. The discussion has also included evaluating in a form of analysing team processes and naming the owners of those processes. In other words this is ‘process evaluation’.

To begin with it is useful to analyse the process in question. What kind of operations does it include? Where and when does the process start, how does it continue, what kind of periods does it have and where does it end? Then it is important to differentiate the duties the process owners have in the process. A process can for example be the transportation of pupils from a school class by the school. 

The owner of a process is the worker who is involved in it. There are different kinds of process owners in a team, those who have more responsibility and those who have less. It is useful to make a hierarchy of process owners in a team. Usually one worker takes part in many processes in school and he/she has different roles in different processes. It clarifies the process for each worker if their duties are written down and available. It is also helpful for the community to be able to see the whole organisation and its processes. 

Every member of  staff tries “to make it as good as possible for the pupils”. This is not only a slogan but the starting point and the basic target in the development of the school. To ensure adequate support services and a high quality of education it is important that every member of the school staff analyses his/her own potential and capacity which could be used broadly. On-going development requires that staff are committed to going through process evaluation regularly. One evaluation is not enough. On-going evaluation is definitely necessary when an organisation wants to improve its practices.

The ideal situation is that the school is able to use its full potential. The special school in question evaluates its process regularly with the school management and all of the staff being involved in the evaluation. It is a collective process where the whole of the school community is involved.

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