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In recent decades comparison has been at the forefront of educational change.  Since the creation of the league tables in 1992 schools have been ranked with the aim of helping contribute to education excellence.  The stated aim was to “give parents the consumer information they needed to create a free market in school choice”.

This apparent thirst for comparison has moved on a step with the rise of PISA tests, with these influential tests allowing global comparisons at the national level.  Allowing us to look at education at the national system level, and challenge ourselves in the UK, as to whether we are (as Andreas Schleicher states about education in general): “…an amazingly local and inwardly looking business”?

At the heart of every good teacher is the want, the need, to take every pupil on their individual learning journey to be the very best they can be.  Education excellence doesn’t come from teaching more of something in exactly the same way.  Schleicher makes a very interesting point when speaking to Alex Tomlin (Report – March 2013):

I don’t think you’re going to do better in mathematics by just teaching mathematics; the curriculum as a whole is the driver of outcomes.

Curriculum is perhaps the hottest topic in education at present.  Government, unions, newspapers are all talking about curriculum. I will return to topics closer to home later in this article but for now a little more about the global perspective.

Andreas Schleicher has appeared in a number of articles in recent weeks.  He is deputy director for education and special advisor on education policy at the OECD, and also responsible for the international education PISA tables.  Hearing the views of an individual who is looking globally at Education is particularly poignant when he moves his attention to the curriculum.

PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment to give it its full title) was launched in 1997.  It aims to evaluate education systems worldwide every three years, focusing on 15 year olds’ competencies in: reading, mathematics and science.  The interesting difference is that PISA wanted to test not just what pupils have learnt in school but if they can draw on what they know and apply their knowledge.  To date over 70 countries and economies have participated in PISA.

In 2009, 74 school systems were assessed covering 87% of economies worldwide.  Chine (Shanghai), Korea, Singapore, Finland and Canada were the key countries highlighted as educators who deliver equity and value for money.  Commonality came in the form of: ambitious standards; every student being able to benefit from education irrelevant of background; and excellent teachers being put in the most challenging classrooms.

Another interesting factor was the way in which countries distributed their educational spend.  Money only explained 20% of differences in performance outcomes among countries.

Using Korea as an example, here is how the educational spend was balanced and the trade-off decisions made:

  • Spend more to attract the best teachers
  • Invest in long school days
  • Invest in professional development and collaboration
  • Students learn in large classes to drive costs down and allow them to afford the points covered above

In comparison Luxembourg:

  • Spend more on small classes
  • Teachers are not paid well
  • There are less hours of learning
  • Teachers only have time to teach – giving less scope for professional development

For me, this research contains two very important points concerning – teachers and education excellence:

  • Even when the best and brightest have been recruited, it is vital that we do not forget our teachers, we must continue to: educate, develop and then in turn retain, the very best
  •  By following the example of other countries and looking beyond our own country can we find the key to equity?  Will this information help us to combine education excellence with equity – moving from excellence for some to excellence for all?

Education excellence for all is dependent on excellent teachers and a dynamic and fast paced curriculum.  The way in which the curriculum is delivered is dependent on your school setting and knowledge of pupils.  With one final reference to PISA research and from Andreas Schleicher:

…high performing countries are not particularly prescriptive in terms of what should be taught.  They’re very clear about what good performance looks like what students should be able to do, then leave it up to teachers to decide how to teach.

The new draft curriculum seeks to introduce higher standards and raise expectations of pupil outcomes.  I agree that expectations should be high and all pupils should feel empowered to be the best they can be.  We must not only teach a challenging curriculum but deliver it in an engaging, innovative, and original way.

As teachers we must be prepared for, and embrace, change; to use technologies that haven’t been invented yet; to ensure that our learning environment is equipped to prepare pupils for the number of jobs which are yet to be invented.

We must use evidence to help us improve and ensure that, in education, we shift from a seemingly “…amazingly local and inwardly looking business” to a global, outward looking, and forward thinking business.  Only by doing this in a continuously dynamic way will we create sustainable education excellence.

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