Book chapter: Trust and teacher accountability in Finland and Singapore

I am happy to report that a chapter that I wrote based on my thesis fieldwork, Contrasting Approaches, Comparable Efficacy? How macro-level trust influences teacher accountability in Finland and Singapore, has been published in the book Trust, Accountability and Capacity in Education System Reform: Global Perspectives in Comparative Education, edited by Melanie Ehren and Jacqueline Baxter.

I first met Melanie when we presented on the same panel at the EARLI SIG 18 & 23 conference in 2018, and she generously reached out to ask if I would like to contribute to their edited volume. As a PhD student who felt rather green, I deeply (and nervously!) appreciated the opportunity to work with her.


While Finland and Singapore both enjoy the global educational limelight due to their successful school systems, they differ considerably in their approaches to teacher accountability. Finland’s light-touch teacher accountability system focuses on setting standards at the point of entry to the teaching profession, whereas Singapore uses a comprehensive, tiered and competitive performance management system that deploys promotions and performance bonuses to manage the processes and outputs of teacher practice in schools. In this chapter, I use interviews with 24 Finnish and Singaporean teachers to explore the differences between these distinct approaches to teacher accountability – and to account for their disparate but apparently successful pathways. I argue that these disparate approaches share an underlying principle: each model of teacher accountability is compatible with the macrosystem in which it is embedded. Thus, teachers regard the accountability instruments as legitimate, enabling the instruments to favourably influence teacher motivation and practice. Specifically, public trust in Finland’s education system is distributed throughout each level of the system, with teachers enjoying high generalised trust. This is compatible with an accountability approach that gives teachers considerable autonomy over their daily work. In contrast, public trust in Singapore’s education system is concentrated on the Ministry of Education. This institutionally focused trust supports – and is supported by – a teacher accountability system that gives the managers considerable influence over teacher practice.

Note that the distribution of trust is far from being the only way to slice the sociocultural differences between Finland and Singapore. Sociocultural context is so fascinatingly complex. Elsewhere, I’ve framed the teacher accountability-relevant sociocultural differences between Finland and Singapore as being related to different mental models of motivation (in my thesis) and different visions of what education is and should be (in a RISE blog). What it boils down to is whether the teacher accountability instruments in question are meaningful and persuasive (rather than just bureaucratic or coercive) to the teachers who experience them in their specific day-to-day contexts.

The chapter is available for open-access download here.

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