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Expert questions school performance

Many privileged schools in the UK are not performing as well as they would be expected to, an international education expert has suggested.

Andreas Schleicher, deputy director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that global test data suggests that it is not just schools in disadvantaged areas that may be under-performing.

Giving evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee, Mr Schleicher said that around two-thirds of the difference in pupils' results in the UK is within schools rather than between schools.

He said that there was "real potential" for academies to look at poor performing students within a school and take action.

Mr Schleicher, who is responsible for the international PISA tests, which assess the skills of pupils in different nations in subjects such as English and maths, was asked by the committee about the challenge of getting good heads and teachers to work in schools in challenging areas.

He told the cross-party group of MPs: "One of the mistakes that education systems often make is, if they find a school in need they give more people to it but not better people.

"They tend to raise spending on those schools, but not necessarily the quality of professionals in those schools."

There are lessons to be learned from Shanghai in China, where the way a teacher progresses in their career is to take on tough classes, Mr Schleicher said.

"If you are a vice-principal in a high-performing school in Shanghai and you want to become a principal, the education system will tell you 'Yes, you can get there, but first help us improve one of the lowest-performing schools'."

Shanghai operates a system that has a similar philosophy to the London Challenge programme which ran several years ago and saw schools in the capital working together to raise standards, it was suggested.

Mr Schleicher said that offering teachers career incentives alongside financial incentives to work in particular schools is much more powerful that just offering monetary inducements alone.

"Where you lose the aspect of career and just operate with money you end up often with just spending money and getting more people, but not necessarily the right people."

He added: "This being said, one of the things to look for in the PISA data is that you have only in the UK 30% of the performance variation in the student population between schools. Two-thirds of the performance challenges lie within schools.

"That's again why I think there is real potential for the academies to actually take that challenge seriously."

Mr Schleicher said in Germany, over 50% of the variation in pupils' performance is between different schools, making it possible to locate the schools that are not doing well.

But he added: "In the UK, actually, you have not only poor kids from poor neighbourhoods getting poorer results, but there are many kids in many neighbourhoods in many schools where you can raise performance.

"Two-thirds of the challenge really lies within schools."

He added: "In principle greater school autonomy, greater responsibility in schools can help you act on this, because you get people take more ownership of the problem."

He also told the committee: "One of the things that I interpreted, the way I look at the PISA data for the UK is again not just disadvantaged schools, you have many privileged schools, which actually are not reaching anywhere near the performance expectation that you would hope for."

After the committee hearing, Mr Schleicher said that PISA statistics show that the total difference in the performance of students in the UK was 105 points, compared with an OECD average of 100.

Of this difference, 29.7 points come from variations in student performance between individual schools and 75.7 points come from within schools.

He added that in Germany, the difference between schools was 57.7 points, but this is largely variations between different types of school rather than individual schools.


From Belfast Telegraph