Imagine a country where children do nothing but play until they start compulsory schooling at age seven. Then, without exception, they attend comprehensives until the age of 16. Charging school fees is illegal, and so is sorting pupils into ability groups by streaming or setting.
There are no inspectors, no exams until the age of 18, no school league tables, no private tuition industry, no school uniforms. Children address teachers by their first names. Even 15-year-olds do no more than 30 minutes' homework a night.
The national curriculum is confined to broad outlines. All teachers take five-year degree courses (there are no fast tracks) and, if they intend to work in primary schools, are thoroughly immersed in educational theory. They teach only four lessons daily, and their professional autonomy is sacrosanct.
So attractive (some might say cushy) is a teacher's life that there are 10 applicants for every place on a primary education course, and only 10-15% drop out of a teaching career.
It sounds like Michael Gove's worst nightmare, a country where some combination of teachers' union leaders and trendy academics, "valuing Marxism, revering jargon and fighting excellence" (to use the education secretary's words), have taken over the asylum.
Yet since 2000, this same country, Finland, has consistently featured at or near the top of international league tables for educational performance, whether children are tested on literacy, numeracy or science. More than 60% of its young people enrol in higher education, roughly evenly divided between universities and polytechnics.
Even the management consultancy McKinsey, which has spearheaded the global movement for testing, "accountability" and marketisation, acknowledges that Finland is top. The country's defiance of current political orthodoxies appears to do little economic harm.
According to the World Economic Forum, Finland ranks third in the world for competitiveness thanks to the strength of its schooling, which overcomes the nation's drawbacks, in the forum's view, such as restrictive labour market regulations and high tax rates.