In 2012, it was one of just three countries surveyed by the OECD that reduced inequality while improving its math scores. The great “Pisa shock” led to what has now been called the “great turnaround” in German education. So, does Germany, with its complex and fragmented education system, and school days that have traditionally stopped at lunchtime, have a lesson or two to teach other countries?
Rankings of countries based on how well their students perform in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) always receive a great deal of attention from the media and politicians. But PISA rankings, produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, are limited when it comes to evaluating the quality of education systems and their efforts to improve children’s lives.
The rankings tell us, for example, that 15-year-olds in Germany and the US perform better in mathematics than students in Peru or Indonesia. Yet we also know that income per capita in Peru and Indonesia is way less than that in Germany and the US.
So is it fair to compare education systems operating in such different socio-economic conditions? How would these education systems perform if they served students and operated in countries with more or less similar socio-economic characteristics?
In studies of how well individual children do and the “effectiveness” of individual schools, pupils’ socio-economic characteristics are now ritually taken into account. The same reasoning can be extended when comparing countries’ education systems.
Our research has measured the effectiveness of education systems by adjusting the performance of students who take the PISA tests for the socio-economic context. The effectiveness measure is obtained by calculating the difference between how well students in the education systems ranked by the OECD actually perform, and how they should be expected to perform due to the socio-economic characteristics of students, schools, and countries.
In the graph below, those countries with values higher than zero – towards the right-hand side – have 15-year-olds who perform above expectations in mathematics, meaning the education system is effective. Those below zero, to the left, indicate ineffective performance.
PISA 2012, effectiveness of education systems in mathematics performance. Note: Albania and Lichtenstein were removed for missing data in the economic, social and cultural status index and sample size restrictions. Author provided
The results show a different configuration of countries’ performance once the socio-economic context is considered. For example, Turkey, Thailand, and Indonesia are effective systems, once results are adjusted in this way, although their absolute performance in the PISA tests is below average. Conversely, the US, Sweden, and Norway are among the least effective systems if socio-economic context is taken into account, but exhibit higher absolute performance scores.
There are also systems that perform highly according to both absolute scores and for effectiveness once their performance is adjusted for socio-economic context – such as Hong Kong, Korea, and Chinese Taipei. Others have both low absolute performance scores and effectiveness measures, such as Argentina, Jordan, and Qatar. And there are also systems which perform within their expected range, such as Mexico, Spain, Finland, and New Zealand.
Taking wealth into account
The second graph below shows the relationship between absolute mathematics scores in PISA 2012 and effectiveness measures, adjusted for socio-economic context. Those education systems that perform well in absolute terms do also tend to be more effective, but the relationship is not perfect and there are considerable differences between the two.
For example, absolute mathematics performance in Norway and the US is similar to performance in Portugal – but Portugal is effective and Norway and the US are not. For their socio-economic context, Norway and the US perform below what can be expected, whereas Portugal exceeds its expected performance. You could argue that for their advantaged socio-economic conditions, the US and Norway could perform considerably higher than they do.
Which countries are most effective? PISA 2012, math absolute scores versus effectiveness scores, adjusted for socio-economic context. The horizontal line at 0 separates effective from ineffective systems and the vertical line at 500 score points indicates the OECD average. Albania and Lichtenstein removed for missing data. PISA 2012 data., Author provided
It’s clear that some countries perform very differently when their socio-economic situation is taken into account, whereas others perform more or less the same. For example, performance in Mexico, Spain, Finland, and New Zealand practically does not change after the socio-economic context is considered.
Better than expected
But performance is much higher than expected in Thailand, Turkey, and Portugal. Put differently, these systems would score higher in PISA rankings if it took into account the socio-economic context of the countries.
There are, on the other hand, systems such as Norway, Sweden, the US, Israel, Greece, Jordan, and Qatar that perform worse than expected. It seems that comparatively, these countries could perform better considering the available economic resources and the socio-economic characteristics of the student populations they serve.
But there might be other cultural and economic factors, such as the distribution of economic resources, that condition the results of effectiveness and are difficult to change through reforms to education policy.
The PISA results tell us how countries perform in absolute terms. But
looking at how effective education systems are according to their socio-economic context offers a complementary perspective.
Viewed this way, it is possible for an education system operating in relatively disadvantaged conditions, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam, to perform better than one with higher performance according to PISA rankings but operating under more favourable socioeconomic conditions, such as Iceland, Norway, the UK, the US, and Sweden.
NUT, NASUWT and ATL members at Small Heath School, Birmingham are taking their 4th day of strike action on November 18th (with another planned on 10th December) against plans to turn the school into an academy. The IEB show no sign of being prepared to negotiate. They have refused talks with local and regional union officials and ACAS.
There is no evidence that academy conversion improves schools. Indeed, sponsored academies have the worst record on school improvement of any type of school. The strike comes at a time when the government are seeking to outlaw opposition to academy conversion via draconian restrictions in the Education and Adoption Bill.
A group of the strikers from the school will also be lobbying MPs at Westminster on the day at the NUT Lobby.
‘Free’ Schools are pressuring parents for money to pay for school trips or even to employ teachers!
Parents are being told by Whitehall Park ‘Free’ school in Islington to pay into a special fund to pay for trips. It is asking parents to prove that they have paid in. Unfortunately parents with family budgets under stress from the Chancellor’s austerity programme are not paying up.
Parents at Grindon Hall School in Sunderland have been asked to fund a whole new teacher! The school estimates that it needs £40,000 to be raised. We have to wonder if that will be one off or will parents have to raise this every year to pay this teacher’s salary?
The Christian School is in special measures. A Department for Education spokesperson said:
Grindon Hall Christian School was placed in special measures in January following an Ofsted report that found issues with leadership, the quality of learning and safeguarding. It is also subject to two financial notices to improve. The Regional Schools Commissioner is seriously concerned about the school and has been exploring options for future sponsorship, to provide the strong skills in financial management and governance required to bring about swift improvements.
One of England’s largest and most successful academy chains is seeing hundreds of teachers leave its schools each year, to be replaced by new staff, Education Guardian can reveal.
More than 1,000 teachers have left schools in the Harris Federation over the past three academic years, according to a freedom of information request provided to Bridget Chapman, chair of the Anti Academies Alliance.
The data shows 465 teachers leaving Harris schools in 2014-15, 422 in 2013-14 and 375 in 2012-13.
Precise calculations as to what proportion of Harris teachers leave each year are difficult. Cross-checking with Department for Education statistics on the number of teachers in each school suggests the figure could be as high as 30%, though this is disputed by Harris. Latest DfE data records that Harris schools employed 1,116 teachers as of 2013-14.