PISA: strong on equity, but weak on positive teacher policy

published 6 December 2016 updated 16 December 2016

The OECD’s 2015 PISA contains a range of strong and positive proposals on equity, tackling disadvantage and on the promotion of science teaching, but fails to adopt a coherent narrative on positive teacher policy.

“There is much in the latest PISA from the OECD which affirms just how important it is for countries to have strong thriving public education systems,” said Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen on the outcomes of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Many of its proposals for improving equity are vital for the future of all young people.”

The report strongly recommendstargeting additional support for children of immigrants and disadvantaged backgrounds, and urges all governments to support them. Equally important, it condemns gender stereotyping. There remains a persistent bias against girls in science as well as high repetition rates for boys from lower socio economic backgrounds. Knowing this, governments must take action to counter and reverse low expectations so that they do not become destiny.

Students in advantaged schools have access to better materials and resources, whereas students in disadvantaged schools have less teaching time and are more likely to be required to repeat grades. The report emphasizesthat targeted additional resources will make a positive difference for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Positive policies towards supporting the learning of young people from immigrant backgrounds can lead to major increases in students’ learning.

Van Leeuwen admitted his disappointment with the report's conclusions and tone around the use of resources for schools. “Higher public expenditure on education has not delivered better results? This directly contradicts thewidely knownevidence that sufficient resourcesare a prerequisite for quality with equity. The best experts to consult on resources and gaps are teachers themselves, but their voice is largely silent in this edition of PISA. Leaders are referred to again and again, but the teachers survey has barely been used. This is a missed opportunity.”

Many school systems are still seriously underfunded, he deplored, stressing that it is to teachers themselves that governments should turn if they want to know what resources schools need and how to spend them wisely.

Education International strongly believes that the OECD must be very careful not to promote a false dichotomy between ensuring sufficient resources for schools and quality education. This contradicts OECD’s own proposals for targeted resources for immigrant students, education in the early years and disadvantaged students and equity in resource allocation. For EI, sufficient resources enable teachers to do their jobs, and a wise use of resources comes both from engaging the teaching profession and their unions in evidence-informed policy development, dialogueand evaluation of education reforms.

The OECD urges that the priority must be to “attract and retain qualified teachers, and ensure that they continue to learn throughout their careers,” yet the OECD seem more confused than ever about the relationship between class size, teacher qualification and student achievement. Again, this goes against their own data where it unequivocally says, “in schools with smaller classes, students report that teachers can dedicate greater attention to individual students’ needs and knowledge, provide individual help to struggling students, and change the structure of the lesson if students find it difficult to follow”. Education International also regrets that the OECD has a narrow view of education systems, such as when it investigates the results of Shanghai students or Singapore’s students.

Education International clearly supports the focus on equity, disadvantaged students and the fact that the teachers in the public sector are for the first time acknowledged as the best in the world, gaining better results than their private counterparts when socioeconomic data is accounted for.  However, the writing team has failed to take a nuanced view of the impact of qualified teachers, small classes and adequate resourcing on the development of quality education.

To provide greater in-depth analysis, EI is organising a post publication webinar for affiliates whose countries have participated in PISA 2015 on 14 December 2016 from 1:30 – 3:00 pm (GMT). The purpose of the webinar is to brief affiliates on key messages from PISA 2015 and enable affiliates to discuss its outcomes. PISA Senior Manager Peter Adams and PISA Senior Advisor Michael Stevenson from the OECD PISA Team will to take part and present key findings from PISA 2015.

To read EI's initial key commentary on the 2015 Report, please click here.

For more information, please contact:

John Bangs, Education International: email: [email protected] or tel: +447879480056 or +32473840732