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Successful schools in testing times: insights from PISA 2018 Volume V

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​The OECD has published Volume V of its 2018 international findings of its Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

This report addresses schools and school systems and their relationship with education outcomes more generally. The volume covers school governance, selecting and grouping students, and the human, financial, educational and time resources allocated to teaching and learning.

Please see below for notes from a presentation, organised by the Education Policy Institute, on the key report's findings for the UK. You can find the full and detailed OECD PISA 2018 report here.

The webinar considered the context of covid-19, with the panellists all making the point that the challenge presented by covid is to not return to the status quo of education, but use the learning to improve the education system.

Remote learning

  • The key challenge for disadvantaged students is accessing quiet space, internet and digital devices at home
  • The report highlights that disparities in remote learning are based on how well schools are equipped
  • The report found the UK has one of the highest numbers of school computers per students and there is no gap between privileged and disadvantaged school. The UK has computers equitably distributed across schools
  • However, the report found a low level of commitment to technology informed learning within the UK, and it highlighted that there is less access to effective online learning platforms that in other OECD countries
    • Around 70% of school leaders agreed that an effective online learning support platform is available
    • However, there is huge variation in this confidence figure between advantaged and disadvantaged schools: around 75% of school leaders in advantaged areas and 40% of school leaders in disadvantaged areas
  • The PISA data suggested that teachers were not incentivised to embed technology into their teaching
  • In terms of policy and programs for using digital devices, the UK was found to be exemplary in the development of policies on the effective use of technology, such as responsible internet behaviour, engaging with social media, etc.

Learning time

  • Adding learning time does not improve the successes of the education system as a whole
  • What is more important is the quality of instruction, improving the use of staff capacity and existing time and funding, not simply adding more learning time.

Resources for learning

Material resources

  • In the UK, there is a significantly greater shortage of material resources in disadvantaged schools compared with advantaged schools
  • This makes a big difference to educational outcomes and includes lack of access to and poor quality of educational materials and physical infrastructure
  • The more equitably resources are allocated, the better the country's overall educational performance
  • The report also looked at access to rooms at school for homework and additional study as a predictor of overall educational success
  • Although, in disadvantaged schools in the UK, they are well equipped with space, they were found to lack the additional staff support that is as important as having the space for additional work.

Staff resources

  • The report found that the UK didn't have issues with the quality of teaching staff, but struggled to have enough staff available 
  • This is a universal experience for developed OECD countries
  • This is much more of an issue in disadvantaged schools because attracting staff is hard.

Other points of interest from the report

  • The UK has one of the highest rates of 'government-independent schools' (eg academies) in the OECD
    • Having more public schools improves the overall effectiveness of an education system, as equity is a key driver of a successful education system
  • The UK has the highest rates of grouping different abilities into different classes, implying a high rate of implicit tracking and selection occurring
    • This is generally negative for overall education performance, as it negatively affects overall educational equity, although it might help an individual school's performance
  • Collecting data on educational outcomes has become broadly universal across OECD countries. The UK had some of the highest rates of publicly posted outcome data
    • The report found that posting performance data publicly is positively related to learning outcomes, even when accounting for socio-economic, although the relationship is not very statistically strong
  • ​A higher number of years in pre-primary education is a good predictor of positive individual performance over time and the success of the overall education system
  • The UK has higher than average number of extracurricular activities. In terms of creative extra curriculum in areas of drama etc, the UK is one of the top performers.

For further detail on any of the above, you can find the full report here

First published 02 October 2020