Friday, December 19, 2014

The efficiency of Italian schools in an international perspective

by Tommaso Agasisti,
Politecnico di Milano School of Management, and TJ Alexander Fellow at OECD



Performance in PISA and (Data Envelope Analysis) efficiency scores

Budget cuts in public services are today common across countries. For schools, as everywhere else, we constantly hear calls for ways to do more with less. Efficiency, it seems, has crept up to the top of the policy agenda. The question is whether the quality of learning is suffering due budget cuts, and if the quality of learning is compromised by fewer resources.

In most countries, educational results have not progressed in line with the increases in resources used by schools. Large scale international assessments, such as PISA, opens the door to new research on efficiency. Using PISA 2012 data, we estimated efficiency for almost 9 000 schools operating in 30 countries. In this context, efficiency is defined in a technical sense: inputs are the number of teachers per student, the number of computers per teacher (measures that provide us with an idea of the amount of human and material resources available to the school) and students’ average socio-economic background (a measure of the environment the school operates and the family background of the students that attend the school), while outputs are measured by the average test scores in mathematics and reading of the students in the school. Using international data, the efficiency at school level is not determined only by national efficiency standards in a particular country, but by schools in all countries.

The results highlight that among the 30 countries being examined, the average efficiency of school stands at 0.73. This means that PISA test scores could be raised by 27% if resources were used at the optimal level of efficiency (those attained by top performing schools for each combination of resources). For Italian schools, the average efficiency score is 0.71, which implies that on average, the PISA scores could be raised by 29%. By way of comparison, the country in which efficiency scores are the highest is Singapore (0.84), followed by two other Asian countries (Korea and Japan), then Poland and Estonia (see Figure above).

The empirical analysis compares Italian schools with a sample of schools in other countries Many Italian schools are comparable with the best schools in the world, while others struggle with underwhelming results (both with regards to achievement and efficiency). One of the most striking findings of this research is the amount of variation in efficiency across schools within each country. In this sense, the “typical, average” Italian school simply does not exist.

The PISA data allows less efficient schools to observe the characteristics of more efficient ones, by studying their organisation and activities, regardless of the country where they operate. Drawing inspiration from these data, each school can adopt the mix of resources, practices and processes that they consider most suitable for improving their operations (in terms of achievement scores and efficiency). In addition, by collecting information at different points in time, schools can monitor improvements and its determinants, eventually adjusting activities and strategies if satisfactory results are not achieved.

An evaluation system of this kind is no substitute for the experience of teachers and principals, rather it can stimulate them, and other stakeholders, into considering the measurable characteristics of their work without renouncing to the more intangible aspects such as cultural and educational values.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What works best for learning in schools

by Cassandra Davis,
Communications Manager, Directorate for Education and Skills

Professor John Hattie is held in high esteem as an education researcher and was called “possibly the world’s most influential education academic” by the Times Educational Supplement in 2012. He rose to international prominence with the publication of his two books Visible Learning (2008) and Visible Learning for Teachers (2011). Since March 2011, Professor Hattie has been Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Professor Hattie is also the Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Communications Manager Cassandra Davis asked him about his research of what works best for learning in schools.

Cassandra Davis: Building a force of effective school leaders demands that teachers be open to assessments and professional development. How do you convince teachers to avail themselves of these opportunities – particularly those who may resist change?

John Hattie: Throughout Australia, we have teachers who are performing at extraordinarily high levels, which essentially means they are creating maximum learning impact with their students.

All too often, such high-impact teaching is almost invisible to the colleagues of those teachers and to the students’ parents. The doors literally close on those classrooms and the teachers just get on with their teaching at a high level, but largely in isolation. 

Despite this tendency, we do know what highly effective teaching practice looks like across a range of school settings. That high impact practice is described in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. They set out clearly what the profession and the community should expect teachers to know and be able to do at different stages of their careers.

When teachers see that any evaluation of their work and impact is underpinned by a set of transparent standards that make sense to them, and where the intent (and result) of any such evaluation is improvement and professional development, I think that school leaders will find teachers are open, receptive and active in their own growth – certainly, that is my experience.

CD: On the one hand, your organisation strives to create competent, responsive school leaders – presumably also from the ranks of teachers – but you also stress the importance of keeping the best teachers in the classroom, free of school-management responsibilities. In your experience, what is the best way to encourage the most innovative and effective teachers to remain in the classroom? Is it largely – or even only – a matter of raising their pay?

JH: In the fairly recent past, it was all too common for excellent classroom teachers to be “promoted” into positions of middle administrative authority and divorced from what they were truly great at doing.

While it’s totally legitimate and desirable for some teachers to aspire to school leadership, we should not effectively penalise those high-performing teachers who wish to go on being superlative at what they do in the classroom.

The way to make the classroom into a real and viable choice for talented and ambitious people is to publicly accord high levels of esteem to the expert classroom teacher. In the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, there are four teaching career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead. The first two are compulsory to achieve and maintain registration and ongoing professional status. The second two are voluntary, increasingly demanding and highly aspirational.

To be certified as a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher on the basis of explicit criteria and demonstrable achievement tells the profession and the wider community something quite profound about the nature of an individual’s talents.

It’s important to have teachers who are paid in accordance with their considerable skills and responsibilities. This is much more important and realisable than payment based on test scores.  The profession needs to be financially attractive enough to attract and retain talented people, so when it comes to salaries, relativities with other comparable professions need to be taken into account. The important issue is rewarding skills and expertise.

CD: Our latest TALIS report shows that 66% of upper secondary teachers in Australia work in schools whose principals reported that more than 10% of the students come from disadvantaged homes. How do you prepare teachers to meet this particular challenge?

JH: As educators, we cannot wave a magic wand over the problem of socio-economic disadvantage. Students do not leave hunger or poverty at the school gate. But what we can do is to help ensure that the principal who leads the school and the teacher who conducts the class are highly skilled and maximise their impact on these students.

AITSL’s work is driven by the knowledge that the greatest in-school influence on student achievement is the quality of teaching.

That might sound like the simplest truism, but in the absence of first-hand experience or knowledge about classroom practices, some parents tend to make choices for their child’s education based on obvious but relatively unimportant proxies, such as manicured grounds, whiz-bang facilities or social cachet.

The support of school leaders and the system for these skilled teachers is a must. A key is how to find time (and thus resources) for teachers to work together in planning in light of their impact, work together to evaluate their impact and collaborate in ensuring all students get the minimum year’s growth for a year’s input.

CD: You mention that AITSL is becoming increasingly engaged with your south and east Asian neighbours. To what extent do you believe that the methods and underlying policies you use to build more effective teachers and school leaders can be exported to cultures and education systems that are fundamentally different from Australia’s?

JH: I am put in mind of the famous opening lines of Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That is to say, there are certain features that characterise successful schools, even while the challenges they struggle to overcome may be quite different.

Successful schools invariably have good leaders. They also have a preponderance or a critical mass of good teachers who understand their impact on student learning and work to become better practitioners. And those schools are led by school leaders who have the skills to raise discussions about what impact means in this school, how to evaluate the magnitude of impact and ensure that all students share this high impact.

Likewise, good schools have a preponderance of genuinely engaged students, supported by interested parents who value education. I suspect all this is true for “happy families” of schools from Australia to our high-achieving Asian neighbours and beyond.

While the “unhappy family” problems faced by other countries’ schools may well be radically different from those faced by Australian schools, there is nevertheless an essential and shared foundation required in the shape of superlatively skilled and high-impact teachers and school leaders.

Links:
New Insights from TALIS 2013
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership
Education Policy Outlook Country Note: Australia
Photo credit: @Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trouble with homework

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills


It’s sometimes hard to tell who has more trouble with homework: students or their parents. PISA results show that homework, itself, may inadvertently perpetuate a problem that goes far beyond spoiling a student’s evening or a parent’s self-esteem. As this month’s PISA in Focus explains, homework may widen the performance gap between students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Students everywhere are assigned homework by their teachers, and across OECD countries in 2012, 15-year-old students reported that they spend almost five hours per week doing homework. (If you think that’s a lot, it’s actually one hour less per week than the average reported in 2003 – and 9 hours less per week than students in Shanghai-China reported in 2012.)

The problem lies not so much in the amount of time spent doing homework, but in differences in the amount of time spent doing homework that are related to students’ socio-economic status. In every country and economy that participated in PISA 2012, advantaged students spend more time doing homework than disadvantaged students. In OECD countries, for example, advantaged students spend 5.7 hours per week doing homework, on average, while disadvantaged students spend an average of 4.1 hours per week. PISA also finds that students who attend schools whose student body is predominantly composed of advantaged students, and students who attend schools located in urban areas, reported spending more time doing homework than students who attend schools with a more disadvantaged student body and schools located in rural areas.

What accounts for these differences? PISA cannot establish cause-and-effect links, but results from previous PISA studies suggest that advantaged students are more likely than their disadvantaged peers to have a quiet place to study at home and parents who convey positive messages about schooling. The connection between the socio-economic profile of a school’s student population and the amount of time students spend on homework might reflect differences in teachers’ expectations for their students and teachers’ perceptions of their students’ capacity to study independently.

All of this has an impact on student performance. Students who spend more time doing homework tend to score higher in the PISA mathematics test. And if you compare students from similar socio-economic backgrounds who attend similarly resourced schools, those who attend schools where students, in general, spend more time doing homework perform better in mathematics than those who attend schools whose students devote less time to homework. In fact, PISA results show that the net payoff in mathematics performance from attending a school where more homework is assigned, in general, is particularly large – 17 score points (the equivalent of nearly 6 months of schooling) or more per extra hour of homework – in Hong Kong-China, Japan, Macao-China and Singapore.

One good way to make sure that homework does not perpetuate differences in performance that are related to students’ socio-economic status is for schools and teachers to encourage struggling and disadvantaged students to complete their homework. This could involve providing facilities at school so that disadvantaged students have a quiet, comfortable place to work, and/or offering to help parents motivate their children to finish their homework before going out with friends or surfing the web. The homework still has to get done; but maybe students and their parents will find it a little less troublesome.

Links: 
PISA 2012 Findings
Does homework perpetuate inequities in education?
PISA in Focus No.46 (French version)
Photo credit: Student connection / @Shutterstock

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shedding light on teaching and learning across education levels

by Katarzyna Kubacka
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Looking at teachers at all levels of education, we learn that the majority of teachers are women. In all countries, the percentage of male teachers is particularly low in primary schools where teaching is still seen as a women’s job.  As a result young children are missing out on role models of both sexes.

New insights from TALIS 2013: Teaching and learning in primary and upper secondary education reveals that women constitute more than 65% of the work force on average, in all six countries that surveyed primary teachers, ranging from 67% in Mexico to 86% in Poland. In contrast, at least 30% of upper secondary teachers across all ten surveyed countries are male and the percentage of female teachers ranges from 48% in Denmark to 68% in Poland. Interestingly, this gender imbalance at the level of teachers does not translate into the same distribution of leadership positions for men and women. School principals in many countries tend to be male on average – a fact that’s surprising considering that most principals are former teachers, and most teachers are female.

The report marks the first time TALIS has expended its scope beyond lower secondary schools to gather information on teaching and learning at both primary and upper secondary levels of education, in a total of 11 countries  around the world.  The report also focuses on schools’ human resources and general resource shortages across all three levels of education.

It reveals that there are some important differences in terms of how school resources are distributed across the education levels and also across schools with different socio-economic composition. In particular, TALIS provides information on perceived shortages in terms of resources such as qualified teachers, computers for instruction, support personnel: shortages which principals deem hinder the provision of quality education in their schools. Unfortunately these perceived shortages tend to be even more pronounced in schools with larger proportions of students from disadvantaged homes – and this trend is seen across the education levels.

One implication of this new set of TALIS information is that education systems need to put more effort into assuring an equitable distribution of resources within and across education levels. Effective teaching and learning requires that all schools, from primary up to upper secondary, have the tools they require to best equip students with the skills they will require to successfully weather the storm of their rapidly changing environments.

Links:
Teaching in Focus No. 8 : What TALIS reveals about teachers across education levels, by Katarzyna Kubacka
Teaching In Focus No. 8Que nous apprend TALIS sur les enseignants des différents niveaux d’enseignement ?
International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Banff, Alberta, on March 29–30, 2015
Photo credit: Human resources officer (HR) choose woman employee standing out of the crowd / Shutterstock

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Man with a mission

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

David Puttnam had a storied 30-year career as an independent film producer (The Mission, The Killing Fields, Local Hero, Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, to cite just a few of his award-winning films) before he retired from film production to focus on public policy related to education, the environment, and the creative and communications industries. Lord Puttnam, who is now the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, the Republic of Ireland’s Digital Champion, and chair of Ireland-based Atticus Education, which delivers interactive seminars on film and other subjects to educational institutions around the world, quit school at 16. (“I was bored to tears,” he says. “It was night school that saved me.”) Marilyn Achiron, editor at the Directorate of Education and Skills, met with Lord Puttnam in early November when he was in Paris to give a keynote address to the CERI Conference on Innovation, Governance and Reform in Education.

Marilyn Achiron: In your keynote speech, you talk about creativity in using technologies in education. What do you mean by that? 

David Puttnam: Creativity, for me, is finding metaphors, finding ways of explaining things in an interesting manner. Innovation in teaching is more than just technique. It’s a way of getting teachers to understand that teaching is a wildly interesting, imaginative job; and the results you can get – as we used to call it, the “lightbulb moment” – when you find the right switch for that lightbulb, are absolutely remarkable. But unfortunately, because of curricula pressures, personal pressures, because of class size, etc., teachers find it increasingly difficult to individualise kids in that sense: one kid’s lightbulb is not going to be the same as that of another kid.

MA: In your travels, do you find that teachers are willing to learn new pedagogies, learn to use new technologies in the classroom, or is there resistance? 

DP: I chair the Times Educational Supplement advisory board. In 2008, we realised that we had a perfectly efficient social media site – TES Connect. And we wondered what would happen if we really opened it up to teachers, to try to encourage teachers to talk to each other instead of through us. Teachers place learning materials, lesson plans, ideas, questions on the site. We've now reached a point at which over a million teachers a day, from all over the world, are now accessing this one site. So the idea that teachers aren’t interested in talking to other teachers, or in learning from other teachers, or in passing on information to other teachers has been blown right out of the water. The day when you went to your classroom, closed the door, and jealously guarded your own pedagogy – those days are over, gone.

Having seen the extraordinary success of  social media sites – TES Connect, and others – one criticism I would make is of the overall quality of the resources that are available. Quantitatively, we’ve hit a gold mine; qualitatively, I think it’s operating at about 20% of what's possible. You need to make sure that the resources posted stimulate really innovative and interesting work. One thing we’re looking into is the concept of copyright-free classrooms, which would mean that teachers wouldn’t have to worry about what they can and can’t use – movie clips, clips from television, whatever it might be – so that we’d in effect be challenging teachers to take material and re-use it, rather than looking over their shoulders wondering if they can. It would create an environment of “permissibility” for teachers to find out what’s possible.

MA: As a film producer, you had direct control over the process and your product, you had relatively quick reaction time from the people you worked with. Are you frustrated now in your policy work on education and climate change?

DP: Oh deeply. I no longer believe, in my heart of hearts, that the political will exists to turn things around – until we are faced with an evidential, existential crisis.

MA: What will that be?

It’s going to have to be pretty catastrophic to create lasting behaviour change; and it’s going to have to be something with a clear “read across” to other nations. It can’t just be inundation of coastal Bangladesh, or the vanishing of the Maldives. It can’t just be that. It’s got to be a situation in which every farmer in the [US] Midwest says: “It’s game over”. It has to shatter complacency at the UN; it has to shatter complacency within the OECD.

MA: How do we convince aging populations, particularly in the West, that improving education and maintaining schools are important? 

Anyone who is sufficiently a fantasist to think that good education systems are not a prerequisite to the health care they want, and the pensions they want, and the social security they want as they get older is bonkers, just plain bonkers!

As we discussed during the conference, the difference between the [highly innovative] medical profession and the teaching profession is quite simple. If you’re a surgeon and I come to you with a serious health issue, and you say to me, “You really do have a problem; however, I was reading the other day about a procedure which is really interesting. It’s been used several times and it could – could – save you”, I’m going to say, “Where do I sign?”

What you have is a process that constantly incentivises innovation, because through a series of relatively short-term wins you get long-term gains. The default mechanism in the education world is the opposite, which is: “How do we be sure it will work?” Because the crisis isn’t acute – or isn’t perceived to be acute. That, I think, is why the medical world has developed at an extraordinary pace – and continues to – and why education languishes.

Links:
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI)
Centre for Educational Research and Innovation: Conference on Innovation, Governance and Reform in Education
David Puttnam's PowerPoint Presentation at the CERI Conference on Innovation, Governance and Reform in Education
Photo credit: © OECD/Marco Illuminati

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does lifelong learning perpetuate inequalities in educational opportunities?

by Dirk Van Damme
Head of the Innovation and Measuring Progress division, Directorate for Education and Skills

Participation rates of 25-64-year-olds in formal and/or non-formal education
More than 40 years ago, the former French Prime Minister Edgar Faure and his team published one of the most influential educational works of the 20th century: “Learning to Be”, better known as the “Rapport Faure”, in which he mainstreamed the idea of lifelong learning. In Faure’s view, lifelong education was to become the leading educational policy principle for the future. Indeed, it became a powerful, evocative notion, nurturing dreams about “learning societies” in which people’s entire lives would be filled with opportunities to learn.

In the lifelong learning discourse, especially in its more optimistic variants in the late 20th century, there was a strong social equity argument. By creating more and better learning opportunities later in life, this argument went, the inequities in education that marked the first 25 years of a person’s life could be corrected or compensated for. A child’s schooling might be determined by his or her family background or economic and social capital; but missing out on educational opportunities early in life should not necessarily condemn individuals to be excluded from the benefits of learning later on. Second-chance or special education programmes that target low-schooled adults should ensure that providing access to education over a lifetime also results in a better redistribution of learning opportunities across society.

There is nothing wrong with beautiful ideas and dreaming of a better future. But the idea of lifelong learning encountered a fate similar to that of many dreams: the reality was much more sobering. When, in the 1990s, the first large-scale data on participation in adult education became available through the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), the verdict was that adult education did not compensate for, but rather reinforced the gap between the educational haves and have-nots. Adults who were already highly literate participated in larger numbers than those who had low levels of literacy.  

Have things changed over the past 20 years? The latest Education Indicator in Focus brief reports on adult participation in post-initial education and training as revealed in the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). On average across the 24 national and sub-national entities that participated in the survey, about half of the 25-64 year-old respondents had participated in formal or non-formal adult education or training. But the average hides wide variations, which are strongly associated with such factors as the respondent’s educational attainment, skills level or employment status (see the chart above). Highly educated, high-skilled adults who are employed participate much more than low-educated, low-skilled and unemployed or inactive adults. In other words, the data gathered in 2012 show similar results to the data gathered 20 years earlier. Accumulating educational opportunities, not compensating for missed opportunities early on, seems to be the dominant dynamic in lifelong learning.

But a closer look reveals three important nuances. The first is the higher level of participation in all categories since the 1990s. Although the metrics that measured participation were not quite the same, in all countries that participated in both surveys, the participation rate increased across the board. This means that low-skilled, low-educated adults have better access to learning opportunities. In 2012, 30% of low-skilled adults reported that they had participated in some form of formal or non-formal adult education or training – double the proportion of 20 years earlier.

The second is related to the enormous differences between countries, both in the average participation rate and in who participates. The average participation rate in Nordic countries is double that of Italy and the Slovak Republic, for example. And, in general, the countries with lower average participation rates are also those with wide disparities in participation, suggesting that country differences in average participation can be explained more by differences in participation rates of low-educated and low-skilled adults than by those of better educated, high-skilled adults.

The third observation directly challenges the “accumulation” view of adult education. When looking at who participates in adult education by the parents’ level of education, the gap between individuals whose parents attained below upper secondary education versus those whose parents have a tertiary degree is small, and much smaller than the gap in the educational attainment level of the respondents themselves. The impact of one’s family background on participation in adult education seems to be significantly lower than it is during compulsory education.

Lifelong learning provides educational opportunities to those who already had a lot of them. From a pedagogical point of view, this is hardly surprising, because one of the great things about learning is that it opens the mind for more. Learning begets learning as it instils the thirst for more. Sure, the educationally better-off enjoy more of lifelong learning’s promises and benefits, but not mainly because family background or previous academic success perpetuates inequalities in educational opportunities, but because learning has created its own dynamic of desire for more. Instilling a desire for learning in initial education, as part of a broader culture of learning, is the best way to ensure that as many adults as possible take advantage of educational opportunities later in life.


Links:
Education Indicators in Focus, Issue No. 26, by Simon Normandeau and Gara Rojas González
Education Indicators in Focus, Issue No. 26, French version
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators 
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
Chart Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2014: Indicator C6 (www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trust is all we need…

by Lucie Cerna
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills


Trust is the glue that holds societies together. It is essential for most social and economic relations. Since the beginning of the economic crisis, OECD countries have been under pressure to restore trust in their institutions, especially in their governments. In a 2013 Gallup Poll, the average trust in government across OECD countries was only 42%. But there is also some good news. Citizens retain a high level of trust in their education systems (67%), health care (69%) and local police (72%) though trust levels vary across countries. The OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges  and the forthcoming Trust Strategy both seek to guide member states on how to rebuild trust in their institutions in a post-crisis world.

But what is trust? It is not easily defined due to its multifaceted character. Trust can be an expectation, an interaction, a belief, an emotion or a social coordination mechanism. Several forms of trust exist, ranging from institutional trust (trust in education systems), organisational trust (between parents and school as an organisation) to interpersonal trust (between student and teacher). While the OECD has mostly focused on institutional trust, it is important to also consider interpersonal trust, both in formal and non-formal relations.

Interpersonal trust can enable the development of social capital and is a measure of social cohesion. In high-trust societies, individuals are comfortable sharing ideas and exchanging information with family, friends and fellow citizens. This can facilitate reaching a consensus among stakeholders and enable more efficient interactions between individuals. In school settings, interpersonal trust is necessary for major structural changes because it allows teachers and school leaders to engage constructively in decision-making.

So why is trust in education systems much higher than in governments? Schooling is integral to everyday life. Most respondents may relate to it whether taking their children to the local school, interacting with teachers at parent-teacher conferences or remembering their own school experience. This is likely to create much stronger connections than with politicians at the national level.

Trust is an essential element of governance and functioning systems and as such it has been interwoven in discussions on the Governing Complex Education Systems project at OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. A recently released EDU Working Paper analyses the centrality of trust for policymaking and current governance issues. Trust enables stakeholders to take risks, facilitates interactions and cooperation, and reduces the need for control and monitoring. Trust offers flexibility to stakeholders to propose and implement innovative reforms. It allows engaging parents, students and communities as active partners. Other factors such as high levels of professionalism and attractiveness of teaching depend on it. For instance, teachers in Finland are so greatly trusted that there is no need for school inspections to take place. Teachers are also encouraged to take risks to implement innovative practices in their classrooms. The system works by trusting in a high level of professionalism and professional ethics of teachers and school leaders.

How can conducive conditions for building trust be created? An example from the United States provides some answers. Principals who favoured teacher interaction and collaboration complained about insufficient time to actually interact and build collegial trust. These principals then changed structures in order to increase interaction time: for example, by rethinking the daily schedule at school, organising more meetings and introducing a teacher room. Such changes can have a positive effect on building trust.

But what can be done when trust breaks down? There is some empirical evidence that trust can be rebuilt through, for example, greater communication, transparency and cooperation between stakeholders. Yet more transparency can only lead to more trust if it is combined with collaboration. Overall, building trust is a lengthy and difficult process. Most forms of trust require familiarity and mutual understanding, and thus depend on time and context. The social context can allow individuals to trust others more easily and to be rewarded for reciprocity in social relations. How can such an enabling context be created? Schools can play an important role in developing cognitive skills which facilitate trust development. Current work at the OECD is exploring such mechanisms, so watch this space!


Links:
Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI) 
OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills 
OECD Public Governance - Trust in Government
Related blogs:
Balancing trust and accountability 
How can education systems embrace innovation? 
Photo credit: Group throwing girl in the air / @Shutterstock

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What PISA can – and can’t – tell us about adults’ skills

by Marilyn Achiron
Editor, Directorate for Education and Skills

Can PISA results predict the quality of a country’s labour force one decade later? To find out, we compared some of the results from the PISA 2000  and PISA 2003 tests with results from the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills (a product of the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, or PIAAC). As we explain in this month’s PISA in Focus, we found that those countries where 15-year-old students achieved high scores in PISA were also the countries whose populations of young adults scored at high levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy a decade after they had participated in PISA.

While, in general, countries tend to maintain the same level of performance in literacy and numeracy as they had achieved in reading and mathematics a decade earlier, PISA results don’t tell the whole story. For example, in Ireland, 15-year-olds performed well above the average score in reading in PISA 2000, but the same cohort scored below average in the Survey of Adult Skills 12 years later. In Italy and Spain, 15-year-olds scored close to the average in reading in PISA 2000, but the same cohort scored well below average in literacy in the 2012 adult survey.

These results tell us that, not only is it important to give all students an opportunity to achieve at high levels during compulsory education, but that the skills acquired in school have to be used later on, or else they’ll be lost (Learning beyond Fifteen: Ten Years after PISA; OECD Skills Strategy). That means that adult education and training systems, employers and labour market policies all have a role to play in making sure that the skills available in a country are used effectively, and in improving the proficiency of those young people who leave school before they have acquired basic skills in literacy and numeracy – which are now a pre-requisite for enjoying full participation in 21st-century societies.

Links:
PISA 2012 Findings
PISA in Focus No. 45: Do Countries with High Mean Performance in PISA Maintain their Lead as Students Age?
PISA in Focus No. 45: (French version)
For more on OECD work on skills go to: http://skills.oecd.org/  
Photo credit: Head and Brain Gears in Progress / @Shutterstock

A chance to design the way forward for education

by Michael Ward
Senior Policy Analyst, the Development Co-operation Directorate

Want to get involved in shaping the future of education? As the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) reach their 2015 deadline, several international groups, including the OECD, are formulating a new set of goals and targets for sustainable development… and we’d like to know what you think.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG), a UN-appointed task force, has proposed an agenda for development that includes goals for education, and educators from around the world have developed a set of specific education and learning targets that are closely aligned with that agenda.

The task now is to develop indicators so that progress towards achieving these new goals can be monitored.

To that end, a Technical Advisory Group, co-ordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and including members from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, has proposed a set of indicators, which you can find here.

We’d like to hear from you

What do you think about the indicators?

Between today and 30 January 2015 you are invited to comment on each indicator or to respond to these questions:

1. For each target, does the report identify the best indicators that are most aligned with the concept and are already being tracked in a large number of countries?

2. What new indicators could be developed to be more closely aligned with the proposed targets and have the potential to be globally comparable?

3. For each target, please identify or propose the two most important indicators.

4. Are there key issues that the document has not addressed satisfactorily or other issues that also need to be taken into consideration?

Please visit the UIS website for details on how to submit your comments.

To ensure that the consultation is open to as many people as possible, we invite you to spread the word among your networks and social media, referencing #Education2015.

After 30 January 2015, the Technical Advisory Group will review the list of indicators based on your feedback. The final proposal will be submitted for endorsement at the World Education Forum in Incheon (Korea) in May 2015. The final documents will then form the basis of the discussions at the UN General Assembly in September 2015 on the new UN goals for education.

Join the discussion on twitter via @EFAReport @UNESCO @WBEducation @OECD_Edu @UNICEFEducation and #Education2015.

Links:
OECD PISA for Development
Photo credit: ©UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Under the radar? Professional education and training

by Simon Field
Senior Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills


Percentage of adults aged 20 – 45 who have short cycle professional education and training as their highest qualification

In centrally planned economies in the former Soviet bloc, apartments and housing came in rigid standard sizes - there was little choice. The same was true of cars. So households had little choice, and provision was dominated by the supply-side. 

We are quick to see the inefficiencies in those arrangements, we who have become so used to the idea of choice over everything. But oddly enough, education systems sometimes operate a bit like a centrally planned economy.  The most visible post-compulsory qualifications, come in standard sizes: two to four years of upper secondary education, and three to four years for a bachelors programme. Often this sequence is seen as the 'royal road' for a young person.

But out there in the labour market, modern economies are generating demands for skills that are every bit as diverse as our varying needs for housing or road transport. These demands come in chunks of different sizes, and quite often in the shape of demand for qualifications beyond school, but involving less time than a full three to four year bachelor's degree.  For example, a recent review of the United States concluded that in the decade to 2018, nearly one third of job vacancies will require a post-secondary qualification of some sort, but less than a four year degree.

So how are countries responding? Are they widening choice in response to demand, or, as in a centrally planned economy offering no more than a rigid and limited set of options? A new OECD report on Skills beyond School, based on 20 individual country studies, sheds light on this. 

Some countries have responded well. In the United States, around 12% of the labour force has a post-secondary certificate – typically a short vocational programme - and certificate graduation rates have tripled in recent years; a further 10% have associate degrees. In Austria, around 20% of the cohort graduate with a post-secondary qualification from a vocational college. In France more than one third of a million students are enrolled in two-year professional programmes. But in some other countries the response is weaker (see chart above).

Much of this activity is under the radar – it simply doesn’t get noticed in the way that university programmes do.With that in mind, the Skills beyond School Synthesis Report proposes a common international name for the sector – "professional education and training" – following the Swiss example. This would include all vocational post-secondary programmes requiring more than six months full-time learning (or the equivalent).

Of course these programmes are not without their challenges, and choice does not guarantee quality. Professional training sometimes needs to raise its game. Teachers and trainers need more up-to-date industry experience; qualifications need to be developed with the social partners nationally, and allow local flexibility to adapt to local labour market requirements; transition to higher education should be made easier; the needs of adults for flexible and part-time study need to be accommodated; recognition of prior learning, including informal workbased learning, also needs to be built in.

But there is also one topic that stands out. This report argues that work-based learning should be made a mandatory element of programmes, allowing employers not only to provide training, but also to strongly influence the mix and content of training provision.  As an aside, work-based learning is such a critical part of vocational programmes that a whole new OECD project will be devoted to this topic in 2015-16.

Links:
Full set of OECD Reviews of Post-Secondary Vocational Education and Training: http://www.oecd.org/edu/skills-beyond-school/skillsbeyondschool.htm
For more on OECD work on skills go to: http://skills.oecd.org/ 
Follow on twitter: #OECDSkills
Image credit: ©OECD











Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Excellence through Equity

by Max Rashbrooke
Journalist, SGI News


In social terms, it’s essential to invest in education.  A recent OECD report How was Life?, looking at global well-being since 1830 finds that, in terms education, there has been a massive improvement.  A lack of educational opportunities creates a vicious circle, in which those unable to get a decent education are denied opportunities for social betterment, the socially disadvantaged then struggle to access education, and so on. Breaking this vicious circle not only improves the lives of individuals; it helps maintain the social fabric. At the same time, it makes good economic sense to nourish every child’s talent, so that they grow up to be productive members of the workforce.

In its assessment of equitable education, the Bertelsmann Stiftung new study “Social Justice in the EU – A Cross-national Comparison" has ranked all 28 European Union countries’ educational policies in several dimensions. The extent to which children’s socio-economic status determines their school results is a key measure. But the report also looks at spending on early childhood education, and countries’ success in lowering the rates of students leaving school early. Finally, it includes an expert assessment of countries’ overall educational policies.

In general, those doing best in the rankings are three Nordic European Union member states (Denmark, Finland and Sweden), two Baltic countries (Estonia and Lithuania), and a European Union new entrant (Croatia). Britain’s ranking is slightly below average. The very worst performers are Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Greece. The biggest improver has been Luxembourg, while the worst slide down the rankings has come in Slovakia.

Countries should not focus on excellence per se but on equity

Several of the top-ranked countries in terms of equitable access to education such as Estonia and Finland are also the best performers when it comes to reducing the influence of students’ social background on their educational performance. What lies behind this success?

If Finland is anything to go by, the answer is that if a country wants high achieving students, its best bet is – counter-intuitively – to focus not on excellence per se but on equity. Finland’s school system, which is dominated by public schools and has no national testing, has some of the best-performing students in the European Union, as shown in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. Despite these excellent results, the Finns don’t relax their focus: their latest four-year education plan places a special emphasis on preventing poverty, inequality and exclusion.

Estonia can boast a similar record: top school results, with little influence of social background on students’ performance. This shows that a high degree of social justice and a well-performing school system are not incompatible goals; in fact, emphasising one often delivers the other.

Investing heavily in the early years also pays dividends. Students who have been in pre-primary education do better than those who have not, especially when they have been in it for several years and its facilities have small pupil-to-teacher ratios.

Some countries have picked up on the importance of the early years. Poland, for instance, is making big strides by insisting on compulsory preschool education. Overall, Bulgaria, Denmark and Hungary invest the most in early childhood education. This is especially important in the latter two countries, where the link between social background and academic achievement has historically been very strong. In contrast, Germany, despite having recently increased public spending on early-childhood education, is still only spending at about the average level for the EU, and does not place sufficient emphasis on high-quality early education.

Early school leavers rates are declining across the European Union – yet not evenly

Reducing the number of students leaving school early is another important objective. Early school leaver rates are declining across the EU, but some countries are doing much better than others. Spain has the worst early leaver rates, at nearly one in four of all students, a situation being made worse by austerity policies that are cutting spending on education.

Countries such as Croatia and Slovenia, by contrast, have exceptionally low rates of early leavers. However, there are fears that many of their students are parked in low-quality vocational courses that do not provide the skills employers need and therefore do not lead to good job opportunities.

There are, in contrast, few question marks over Germany’s justly famous vocational system. It is hugely important to the country’s functioning, with over half of all young workers having gone through the system. Helping reduce youth unemployment, it is well-calibrated to employers’ needs, and leads to strong job and income prospects.

It is, however, situated within a wider education system that is highly selective and segregated. Children are pushed down a particular path, whether it is academic or vocational, at a relatively early age. This tends to create a ‘twin-track’ approach, in which a child’s ability in early life – which tends to be heavily influence by their background – pushes them into a path that, to some extent,determines their fate for the rest of their life.

Avoiding early selection in schools is essential

In countries with early selection, educational success depends strongly on a child’s origin and socioeconomic background, and children from disadvantaged and immigrant backgrounds have much less chance of doing well at school than they would in other European Union countries.

In short, to advance social justice and equal access to educational opportunities, avoiding early selection is essential. Over and over, countries with early selection are marked out as having poor opportunities for the most disadvantaged. Luxembourg, for instance, has this issue, despite spending more per student than any other European Union country.

In Austria, experts have criticised the early division of children into multiple educational tracks. This policy means that parents’ social status very often influences whether children go onto higher education.

PISA results highlight another aspect of this issue. The earlier children are tracked and separated according to performance, the more influence their background has on their educational success. But the countries that do this early separation do not see their overall results rise. In other words, it is not possible to say that even if some children’s prospects are damaged by this approach, most children are better off.

The lesson to be drawn here is not too different from that provided by the Estonian and Finnish systems, which, as above, focus on equity and – as a by-product – also deliver excellence. School systems that don’t separate children out early seem to do better both on educational justice and in terms of learning success. And this exemplifies that social justice and economic progress, far from being competing ideas, are actually entirely compatible. In other words, you really can have your cake and eat it.

A forthcoming OECD Education Policy Outlook will provide policy makers with the policy options to deliver equity and quality in education,  such as investing in early childhood education and care (ECEC), tackling system-level policies that may hinder equity (such as grade repetition, unsupported school choice or early tracking) and supporting students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Links:
Education Policy Outlook
How was Life?
PISA 2012 Results
OECD work on Early Childhood Education and Care
Equity, Excellence and Inclusiveness in Education : Policy Lessons from Around the World
Related blog posts:
OECD educationtoday: Building the knowledge economy
Photo credit: Toys seesaw wooden blocks / @Shutterstock

Monday, November 10, 2014

School size: A literature review

by Deborah Nusche
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills


How big should schools be?

Is bigger better? Or do all the best things come in small packages? For education systems, the question of how school size influences quality and efficiency has long been an important issue. It has become especially pertinent in recent decades, as fiscal pressures and a falling school population in rural areas have meant that countries are looking for the best way for their schools to be effective.

A new OECD working paper on school size policies, published today, shows that there are many ways in which school size may influence learning environments. Small schools make personal contact easy and are often strongly defended by local communities, while larger schools can provide more options to meet a diverse range of interests and needs. Sometimes, due to demographic or geographical challenges, there may be little choice regarding decisions on school size. But disadvantages can be offset, whether through connecting small schools using ICT, or through providing incentives to make larger schools more attractive for teachers and students.

Australia, for example, has used technology to help small schools in rural areas connect with each other through blogging, emailing and engaging in collaborative projects. This has reportedly led to students being more excited about their learning and more motivated to work. In Korea, where over a third of schools have fewer than 60 students, there has been a focus on consolidating schools in rural areas. The process involved many challenges, but due to targeted investments, many of these consolidated schools have thrived and are now attracting students even from urban areas.

In a time of fiscal constraints, consolidating schools is an appealing policy option for governments under pressure to reduce spending. Large schools are often seen as more efficient than small schools: they can use facilities to full capacity, buy large amounts of materials at lower cost and hire support staff to reduce the administrative burden on teachers. But such calculations often forget about hidden costs of consolidation such as increased transportation cost and time for staff and students. There is also evidence that the student body in large schools is often divided with some students taking full advantage of the broader learning options and others not participating at all. Younger students and those from less advantaged families are more vulnerable and may disengage when lacking personalised attention.

While, certainly, there is no “one size fits all approach”, there is much that can be learned from existing research and experience in different countries. This new literature review draws attention to the many factors to be considered when making decisions about school size. What are the transport and cost implications? How can interested parties become informed and engaged in the process? Will the effects of school size changes be different for differing school populations? What type of additional care would be necessary to support those affected by the change? Including such elements in the planning process will help make the full costs and benefits of school size changes transparent and support a constructive debate among stakeholders.

This paper is the first in a series of literature reviews looking at the use of resources in OECD school systems to be published in the coming months.

Links:
School Resources Review - Background papers and studies
Photo credit: Art Supply, An Illustration Different Size of Sharpened Detailed Pencils for Writing or Sketch and Draw A Picture /@Shutterstock

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Lessons for the UK

by Ken Manson 
Co-ordinator (Communications), UK Commission for Employment and Skills

Simon Field is an expert on the comparative analysis of vocational education and training (VET) systems. He leads the OECD’s policy review of VET systems, and is lead author on the OECD’s VET policy publications. I spoke with him about the upcoming launch of the Skills Beyond School review of post-secondary VET systems based on studies in 20 OECD countries.

Skills Beyond School Synthesis Report will be published on the 13th November, and will hold its publication launch at the VET Conference at the Skills Show at the NEC in Birmingham. For information on how to attend, see the Vocational Education and Training Conference website.

Ken Manson: Could you talk a little bit about the background to the report and some of the individual country studies you've done that have fed into this synthesis? 

Simon Field: We have done a lot of work on vocational education and training (VET) at the upper secondary school level, where a number of European countries have substantial apprenticeship systems. We published a report called Learning for Jobs back in 2010 which drew that together. One of the things that came out of that was the importance in many countries of post-secondary vocational systems.

First of all, if you go to some of the countries with very strong classical dual apprenticeship systems, like the Germany and Austria and Switzerland, what you find is that at post-secondary level they support that system with a whole tier of further vocational qualifications. That's very important, because it provides a career ladder for apprentice graduates to aspire to and go on to.

Conversely, if you go to the United States, what you find is that very often people are going through general high school education, and later on, at post-secondary level they will be pursuing some form of technical or professional training that will lead them into work. So that would be their first vocational qualification. That’s a different model, but it is still one where post-secondary vocational programmes are very important.

In the UK, there isn't a huge amount of post-secondary vocational education and training in the sense of shorter, after-school vocational qualifications. Where it exists, it has very often occupied quite niche areas where there is a particular legally required qualification in a regulated profession like childcare.

KM: One thing that UKCES is particularly interested in is trying to encourage employers and training providers to work together. In your research, have you seen any good examples of that, and what lessons do you think the UK could draw from those systems?

SF: We think that encouraging partnership between training providers and employers is absolutely fundamental. Unless you have that, you don't have very much, in truth.

Sweden is a particularly interesting example, and this example will be presented at the event on the 13th November. Their higher vocational education system involves grant funding by central government of employer/training provider partnerships. They're not just funding training providers. Instead, they're funding training providers who are in partnership already with employers to provide a programme of study to students with a built-in element of work based learning. That has been very successful, the labour market outcomes look good, and there is very rapid growth in that programme.

The key thing about this model is that it changes the incentives, because instead of saying, well, we'll fund people to provide training places, and they're going to try very hard to work with employers who will then provide some element of work-based learning, but often they fail. Instead, it's very simple: unless you actually have the employer from the outset working in conjunction with the training provider, then the programme is not funded. That changes the incentives radically.

KM: Where have you seen examples of [education] providers making links with employers to make their qualifications more attractive? Almost a promotion exercise, where providers have been proactive and marketed themselves to that employer audience. Have you seen good examples of that?

SF: There is no better test of marketing to an employer audience than by building in work placements into your programme of study. If an employer is interested enough to provide work placements and support a programme of study, then that almost certainly means that the employer is going to be interested, potentially, in employing graduates of that programme. If there is a programme of study that can't find an employer willing to offer a work placement, then that raises some serious questions about whether the programme of study, if pursued, is likely to lead to employment.

That led us to recommend building in work-based learning as a mandatory element in programmes. It is often said, well, you can't make this mandatory, because you won't be able to find the employers to offer work placements.  But we find this fairly robustly contradicted in a lot of different country circumstances. We believe it is feasible to insist on work-based learning.   Whats more, work-based learning brings other good things in its train, linking teachers in vocational colleges with employers, getting employers interested in working with providers to build relevant vocational qualifications.  In many ways it is the key that unlocks the door to employer engagement.

KM: How will we know when it works? With the broad range of systems that you've studied, what kind of metrics would you be looking at to quantify the success of that system? 

SF: Well, you've put your finger on it. The data in many countries are very weak. The acid test of any vocational programme is whether it leads to a job in which the skill that has been learnt is exercised. There are different types of destination surveys which measure exactly that; you follow up students six months or one year after they've left the vocational programme to find out what they're doing. They have to be used with a little bit of discretion, of course. It's well established that, even in countries with dual-system apprenticeships, you often follow up apprentices and find that they're working in slightly different fields of study. That's not a bad thing; it shows that their careers are developing.

KM: If someone reading this interview wondered if they should come along to [the VET Conference at the Skills Show in] Birmingham, why should they come to the launch of this report?

SF: The main reason is that the Birmingham event and our report will provide a picture of what is going on in the UK and how it compares with other countries, and that's hugely valuable. The truth is, what is going on in the UK is really quite different from other countries.  One can have all sorts of opinions on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing and in what ways things are done better or worse in different countries, but there is no question that a lot can be learnt from those comparisons. It means that at the very least what goes on in the UK is less likely to be seen as something that is just taken for granted. It is a particular and special system that has grown up in a particular way. It could be managed in other ways. Seeing that in itself is enormously healthy and will open eyes to all sorts of possibilities.

Links:
The National Vocational Education and Training Conference, at The Skills Show, Birmingham, 13-14 November 
The Skills Show: Programme
Skills Beyond School Synthesis Report
A Skills beyond School Review of England
Learning for Jobs
OECD Vocational Education and Training (VET) webpage
UKCES blog: “What is going on in the UK is really quite different from other countries”
Photo credit: Teacher teaching students bricklaying in vocational school / @Shutterstock

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Addressing inequities in the Slovak Republic through evaluation and assessment

by Claire Shewbridge
Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills

It is taken for granted in OECD countries nowadays that the vast majority of children and young people have access to education, regardless of their wealth or background. However, despite this great achievement, in many countries, the socio-economic background of children will still have a large impact on how well they succeed at school.

In the Slovak Republic, there are considerable equity challenges, and a very clear link between students’ socio-economic background and their educational achievement. The educational differences between rural areas and cities are significant, regional disparities are more pronounced than in other OECD countries, and the educational outcomes of the Roma minority are particularly poor. This has a lasting impact on a child’s life, as the reduced risk of unemployment for Slovak men and women with upper secondary education is particularly strong when compared internationally. These regional challenges and the important role that education plays in promoting a more inclusive growth are also underlined in the OECD Economic Survey launched today by OECD's Secretary-General in Bratislava.

An essential tool to help the Slovak Republic address this inequity is an effective evaluation and assessment system that will help them to monitor teaching and learning, set educational goals, and improve practice and outcomes. This has been the focus of the OECD’s Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education, of which the Slovak Republic Review is the final publication.

To improve the evaluation and assessment system in the Slovak Republic, a strategic approach is needed, with the clarification of long-term goals for schooling, and capacity building at the national level so that results from evaluation and assessment feed into policies for school system improvement.

The Slovak Republic has made a positive move by strengthening the objectivity of examinations at the end of upper secondary schooling (Maturita) and developing national assessments in Year 9 that help embed the competency-based national curriculum. Next week, also, children in selected primary schools will sit a new assessment in Year 5.

To keep moving forward, the entire school community needs to be empowered to get involved, from parents associations, to students associations, to teachers associations. An important part of this is ensuring that teachers and school leaders have access to adequate professional development. With strategic national leadership, and meaningful community feedback, positive changes can be driven forward so that all students, regardless of their background, will have the opportunity to succeed.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Schools Call for Improvement through Strong Leadership

by Marie-Amélie Doring Serre
Trainee, Directorate for Education and Skills 

Every organisation needs a strong leader to get a sense of direction, to set and achieve specific goals. Howard Gardner defines a leader as "an individual (or, rarely, a set of individuals) who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviours of a significant number of individuals". Being a leader clearly involves a good understanding of human nature, no matter what the area of leadership.

School leaders are the connection between teachers, students and their parents or guardians, the education system and the wider community in which a school exists. Because their central role is combined with rising expectations of schools and schooling in a century characterised by technological innovation, migration and globalisation, we understand that school leaders can no longer be simple managers. The increasing demands of education stakeholders require that these leaders manage human and material resources, communicate and interact with a wide range of individuals, and make evidence-informed decisions.

The role of the school principal is changing: an effective school leader is an instructional leader. Harold Brewer defines a school principal as the “one that requires focusing on instruction; building a community of learners; sharing decision making; sustaining the basics; leveraging time; supporting ongoing professional development for all staff members; redirecting resources to support a multifaceted school plan; and creating a climate of integrity, inquiry, and continuous improvement”. That’s why many regard instructional leadership as the most important professional responsibility with which principals are entrusted. But are school leaders well-prepared to assume such responsibility? Do they feel they get enough support and have enough opportunities to do so?

The OECD Teaching and Learning Survey (TALIS) asked principals in over 34 countries about the leadership activities in which they engage most frequently. Depending on the country, the most frequently mentioned activities range from taking action to ensure that teachers take responsibility for improving their own teaching skills and for their students’ learning outcomes, to working with teachers to improve classroom discipline. Principals’ responsibilities do not end there. Principals also give information to parents about students’ performance, and they also have administrative duties, such as resolving conflicts in the lesson timetable in the school. Some of their other activities are also related to teaching, such as observing classroom instruction. The breadth of these activities shows that principals need sufficient preparation and continual training to be able to work effectively.

The latest Teaching in Focus brief, “School Improvement through Strong Leadership”, addresses the issue of how school leaders could benefit from more pre- and in-service training relevant to the core nature of their work. It is striking to see that although principals are highly -educated individuals with good professional experience, instructional leadership is often lacking in their preparation to become school leaders. As a result, their training does not match the diversity of their responsibilities.
 
It is even more worrying to see that this gap is not filled later on during their career. School leaders are not always able to benefit from instructional leadership training once in their role, even though they recognise their need for further development in this field. TALIS data show that many principals cite conflicts with their work schedule, insufficient opportunities and a lack of employer support as reasons why they do not participate in professional development activities.

Those findings are relevant to principals’ everyday work. One must not forget that strong school leadership can greatly facilitate school improvement and student achievement. But in order for strong school leadership to exert its influence, the concept of instructional leadership has to be fully understood and put in practice by all parties at the system and school levels. Principals should seek opportunities to further develop skills associated with those of instructional leaders. But for this to happen, the education system must provide such initiatives. Policy makers should thus help remove barriers by creating an effective initial education and training environment for school leaders. Only then will better student learning outcomes and school improvement follow.

Links:
The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey
A Teacher’s Guide to TALIS 2013
Teaching In Focus No. 7 : School Improvement through Strong Leadership by Marie-Amélie Doring Serre and Katarzyna Kubacka
Teaching in Focus No. 7: French version
International Summit on the Teaching Profession, Banff, Alberta, on March 29–30, 2015.
Photo credit:Group of People and Leadership Concepts / Shutterstock