Ten lessons from TALIS
On Wednesday, the OECD released their ‘Teaching and Learning International Survey’ (TALIS). The TALIS survey quizzes teachers about their actual classroom practice, and is a goldmine of illuminating international comparisons. TALIS 2013 surveys 34 countries and economies, including 24 from the OECD, though some big hitters, in particular the USA, are not included. In England, 2,500 teachers were surveyed from around 150 schools.
Where I refer to ‘high performing countries’ they are Japan, Korea, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Flanders (Belgium), The Netherlands, Alberta (Canada), and Australia. ‘Low performing countries’ are Abu Dhabi (UAE), Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania, Serbia. The report is available from PISA here, in a not very searchable format. The DfE and a group from the IoE have done an excellent England-specific digest of the report here.
1) More english pupils are diagnosed as having SEN than in any other country: We have confirmation: England has a colossal problem with bogus diagnoses of Special Educational Needs (SEN). Teaches were asked whether more than 10% of pupils in their school had SEN. The OECD average was 26%, and England was 67% – the highest figure for any nation surveyed (OECD, table 2.10). Either there is something in the water, or rather a lot of English pupils suffer from SMBD (spuriously medicalised behavioural disorder).
2) English schools have more teaching assistants than in any country aside from Canada: Sorry teaching assistants (TAs), but your time may be up. England has one teaching assistant for every 4.1 teachers, compared to a OECD average of one for every 9.8 (DfE, p. 44). Only Alberta, Canada has more teaching assistants than England (OECD, table 2.18). Between 2000 and 2012, the number of teaching assistants in English classrooms tripled, amounting to 232,000, costing £4 billion per year. Coupled with the news from the Education Endowment Foundation that TAs have little impact on pupil attainment, and TALIS report finding that they have little impact on classroom behaviour, it seems the days of this army of assistants may be numbered.
3) English schools have more senior leaders than in any country aside from Singapore and Bulgaria: The Senior Leadership Team gravy train has been rumbled. English schools have one school administrative or management personnel for every 3.3 teachers (DfE, p. 45). Only Bulgaria and Singapore have a lower ratio of senior leaders to teachers than England (OECD, table 2.18). If Finland can have one senior leader for every 12.4 teachers, and the OECD average is one senior leader for every 6.3 teachers, some serious questions have to be asked about those under-timetabled, underworked, rarely seen figures.
4) English teachers work long hours: English teachers work, on average, a 46 hour week. This is 8 hours more than the OECD average (38 hours), but revealingly the time English teachers teaching (20 hours)is the same as the OECD average. The extra work sapping up teacher hours seem to be marking, management and administrative tasks (OECD, table 6.12). Questions should be asked about how effectively such time is being spent.
5) English teachers are well paid: The average classroom teacher in England earns an annual £34,600. Relative to the national economy, in only five countries are teachers better paid. So, English teachers are well paid compared to teachers in other countries, but 74% of English teachers still believe they are underpaid compared to other professions (see here).
6) High performing countries do not fall for fads: To be outstanding, a lesson must include differentiation and group work… think again fools! The proportion of teachers who use differentiation ‘frequently’ or ‘in all or nearly all lessons’ is 63% in England, 53% in low performing countries and 32% in high performing countries. The proportion of teachers who use group work ‘frequently’ or ‘in all or nearly all lessons’ is 58% in England, 61% in low performing countries and 25% in high performing countries. Also, high performing countries use considerably less pupil self-assessment than England, and less project work and ICT (DfE, p. 148). If England wants to join the PISA titans, it looks like we may need to cut the crap, ditch the sugar paper, and get serious.
7) Pupil behaviour in England is not good, but it is not the worst: England comes about middle in most measures of pupil misbehaviour. However, this news is cold comfort, as the figures still make for grim reading: 21 per cent of teachers in England said they had to wait ‘quite a long time for students to quieten down’ at the start of classes and 28 per cent insisted they lost ‘quite a lot of time because of students interrupting the lesson’ (DfE, p. 163). Drilling down into the particulars, serious misbehaviour such as cheating, vandalism and theft is rare in English schools. However, 6% of English teachers say that ‘Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff’ occur at least weekly in their school – way above the average and lower only than Brazil and Estonia (OECD, table 2.20). There is still not enough basic respect for adults in our schools.
8) English teachers are over-managed: The cult of the observation has been verified: 99% of English teachers receive feedback at least annually on the basis of classroom observations, compared with 81% in high performing countries and an 88% OECD average. High performing countries are more likely than England to use alternatives such as ‘student surveys of own teaching’, ‘parent surveys or discussion’, and ‘assessment of subject knowledge’ for the purposes of teacher appraisal. Also, teachers in England are jaundiced about the effect of appraisal and feedback on their professional practice: no country scores lower than England in reporting positive changes from feedback regarding ‘confidence as a teacher’ or ‘knowledge/understanding of main subject fields’ (DfE, p. 95-99). Our approach observations and performance management must be reviewed.
9) English teachers are less experienced than in any other country aside from Singapore: The average English teacher has only been in the classroom 12.4 years, compared with an OECD average of 16.2 years. This is the second lowest of all nations surveyed: only Singapore’s teachers are less experienced (OECD, table 2.6). This is worrying, as we all know the merits of an experienced teacher. For example, TALIS shows that English teaches with more years under their belt report far fewer problems with behaviour (DfE, p. 160-161).
10) The OECD is becoming very blobby: This one is worrying. In what appears to be an approving fashion, the OECD report writes under the heading ‘Beliefs about the nature of teacher an learning’ that teacher training may focus on ‘learner-centred classrooms’ and ‘inquiry forms of learning’, with ‘more constructivist, student-centred forms of learning.’ Therefore, the report asked teachers whether they agreed with statements such as ‘My role as a teacher is to facilitate students’ own inquiry’, and ‘students learn best by finding solutions to problems on their own’ (TALIS, p. 163-165). Yikes. Did the OECD miss a meeting? Have they not got the message from Hattie, Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, Willingham et al? Someone needs to tell the OECD: constructivism is bunk.