How happy are our students?

Students’ well-being: PISA 2015 results analyses pupils’ motivation to perform well in school, their relationships with peers and teachers, their home life and how they spend their time outside of school. The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 pupils in 72 participating Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and economies.

The study found that pupils in the UK are among the least happy – ranking 38th out of the 48 OECD countries – with the US ranking slightly higher at 29th. On average, 15-year-old pupils in the US reported a level of 7.4 on a life satisfaction scale ranging from 0 to 10 (the OECD average was 7.3).

As in the majority of countries, boys in the UK and the US reported higher life satisfaction than girls (0.7 points higher for UK; 0.6 points higher for US; OECD average = 0.6).

Pupils in both the UK and the US reported higher levels of schoolwork-related anxiety than the OECD average. The study found 72% of UK pupils and 68% of US pupils felt anxious about tests, even when they were well-prepared for them, compared to the OECD average of 55%. And 61% of pupils in the US and 67% in the UK worry about getting poor grades at school.

Bullying is also an issue, particularly for the UK, with 25% of UK pupils and 19% of US pupils reporting that they are victims of one act of bullying at least a few times a month, compared to the OECD average of 19%.

Source: PISA 2015 results (volume III): students’ well-being (April 2017), OECD

Mind the gap

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores success and good practice in supporting the achievement of disadvantaged pupils, and concludes that schools have meaningful scope to make a difference.

In England, the performance gap between pupils from more- and less-advantaged backgrounds is one of the largest among OECD countries. This research used school-level data, surveys, and interviews to identify schools that have successfully narrowed the gap, common features across these schools, and what lessons can be learned from success stories.

The authors found that between one- and two-thirds of the variance between schools in terms of disadvantaged pupils’ achievement can be explained by school-level characteristics, suggesting that intake and circumstance are influential but do not totally determine outcomes.

  • Promote an ethos of achievement for all pupils, rather than stereotyping disadvantaged pupils as a group with less potential to succeed.
  • Have an individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support at an early stage, rather than providing access to generic support and focusing on pupils nearing the end of key stages.
  • Focus on high-quality teaching first rather than add-on strategies and activities outside school hours.
  • Focus on outcomes for individual pupils rather than on providing strategies.
  • Deploy the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils; develop skills and roles of teachers and Teaching Assistants rather than using additional staff who do not know the pupils well.
  • Make decisions based on data and respond to evidence using frequent, rather than one-off, assessment and decision points.
  • Have clear, responsive leadership: setting ever-higher aspirations and devolving responsibility for raising achievement to all staff, rather than accepting low aspirations and variable performance.

The report also has an accompanying briefing for school leaders which summarises the findings, identifies school risk factors and how schools can address them, and provides a list of suggested next steps.

Source: Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research Report (2015), Department for Education.

Is technology improving outcomes?

A new report from PISA looks at how education systems and schools are integrating technology into learning experiences, and with what results.

The findings, taken from the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), show that young people in general have very high levels of access to computers. A total of 96% of 15-year-olds in the OECD countries/economies reported that they had a computer at home, and 72% reported computer access at school.

But has accessibility made a difference to learning outcomes? The findings of this report indicate that pupils who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes; that pupils in countries/economies that have invested heavily in technology showed no appreciable improvements in reading, maths, or science achievement; and that in places where it is common for pupils to use the internet at school for homework, pupils’ performance in reading declined between 2000 and 2012. However, pupils who used computers “moderately” at school tended to have somewhat better learning outcomes than those who used them rarely.

The authors also explore the “digital divide.” They say that as the gap in access to digital media and resources closes, research has started to focus on what people do with it, and this still depends on factors such as reading skills and social support. The report found that in general disadvantaged pupils preferred chat over email. Also, while in most countries/economies there were no differences related to socio-economic status in the use of video games, the influence of socio-economic status was strong when it came to reading news or obtaining practical information from the internet.

Source: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection (2015), OECD.

Teaching in Europe

Eurydice has published a new report about the teaching profession in lower secondary schools (approximately ages 12-15) in Europe. It uses the findings of the the 2013 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and Eurydice and Eurostat data on the 28 EU Member States, and seven other European countries. In all, 40 different education systems (including England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), and around two million teachers were included.
 
The extensive report examines five areas considered important for policy: (1) demographics and working conditions; (2) initial teacher education and the transition to the teaching profession; (3) continuing professional development; (4) transnational mobility; and (5) attractiveness of the profession.
 
Findings include:
  • A degree is the minimum entry level for teacher training programmes in 15 countries, and 17 countries require a Master’s;
  • The minimum length of initial teacher training is usually between four and six years;
  • Within the EU, 91.2% of teachers have completed an initial teacher training programme;
  • Teaching time is contractually specified in 35 education systems. The majority of countries also centrally regulate the total working time of teachers, which averages 39 hours a week;
  • On average, teaching time constitutes 44% of a teacher’s total working time. England, Estonia, Sweden, Wales, and Northern Ireland are the only education systems that do not contractually specify the number of teaching hours;
  • In 29 education systems CPD is a “professional duty”, although around a third of these (including England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) do not specify how much time should be spent);
  • Incentives to participate in CPD exist in almost two-thirds of the education systems surveyed; and
  • In general, teachers are satisfied or very satisfied with their profession but consider that society does not value it.
 
Source: The Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions, and Policies (2015), Eurydice.

Implement, educate, evaluate

An OECD report, Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen, calls for a coherent framework of assessment and analysis of the effectiveness of education reforms. The report looks at the implementation of educational policy reforms through national and international comparisons.

Pasi Sahlberg, visiting Professor of Practice at Harvard University, critiques the report in a recent article. He highlights one of the report’s conclusions that “once new policies are adopted, there is little follow-up” and that only one in ten of the policies considered in the OECD report has been evaluated for its impact. Professor Sahlberg also praises increases in research and policy analysis in some countries, naming the UK and USA as examples.

Source: Education Policy Outlook 2015: Making Reforms Happen (2015), OECD.

PISA and homework

An OECD report on data from the PISA survey looked at homework among 15-year-olds and asked whether homework perpetuates inequalities in education.

According to the report, in 2012 students in the 38 countries covered by the survey spent an average of an hour less on their weekly homework than their predecessors did in 2002 (OECD average 5.9 hours). Socio-economically advantaged students and those who attended socio-economically advantaged schools tended to spend more time doing homework than other students. There was an association between the amount of mathematics homework supplied and the performance of both students and schools, but other factors had a greater effect on overall school performance.

The report concludes that homework provides an opportunity for learning but could reinforce socio-economic differences. Schools and teachers might be able to mitigate the problem by, for example, providing quiet places for study for students with no such facility at home.

Source: Does homework perpetuate inequities in education? (2014) PISA in Focus