“The highest performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity,” says OECD

Janet Downs's picture
“Improving equity and reducing school failure pays off,” says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Completing secondary education is good for the individual and good for countries.

In its latest major report the OECD stressed that investment in education is crucial – from the early stages right through to the end of upper secondary education. Education should not be seen in isolation – it needs to be integrated with social welfare policies to improve pupil access.

Governments can help prevent school failure and reduce drop-out rates by employing two parallel approaches:

Parallel Approach one: Avoid policies which contribute to school and student failure. OECD recommends these strategies:

• Eliminate grade repetition – it’s costly and ineffective.

• Avoid early tracking and put off student selection to at least upper secondary.

• Manage school choice to avoid segregation and increased inequality – parental choice should be balanced with the need for equity.

• Make funding strategies responsive to students’ and schools’ needs – ensure access to quality early childhood education and care.

• Design equivalent upper secondary pathways to ensure completion – make upper secondary education more relevant, reinforce guidance and counselling, design targeted programmes to prevent dropout, improve the quality of vocational education and make academic and vocational tracks equivalent.

Parallel Approach two: Help disadvantaged schools and students improve:

• Encourage a supportive school climate and environment for learning – use data to spot struggling students and offer support, counsel and mentor students, develop positive teacher-pupil relationships and consider different ways of organising learning time.

• Attract, support and retain high quality teachers

• Ensure effective learning strategies – use formative and summative assessments to track progress, and promote a culture of high expectations.

• Prioritise school/parent/community links – improve communication with parents, particularly those who are difficult to reach, and encourage mentors from the same communities.

The report repeats earlier findings from the OECD – the best-performing school systems tend to be those that do not segregate pupils either geographically, socially or academically, and if selection is a feature of a school system, then this should be delayed to at least upper secondary. Yet in England there is increasing support for the expansion of grammar schools with children separated at age eleven. The report also stresses the importance of vocational education – but in England this is viewed as second best. The report recognises the importance of attracting high-quality teachers to work in disadvantaged schools – but in England teachers are derided if their schools don’t reach the benchmark despite the fact that the Education Endowment Fund found that many under-performing schools were doing a good job in difficult circumstances.

And, finally, the report stressed the importance of balancing parental choice with the need to ensure equitable treatment for all children. The OECD has already warned that the free school/academy conversion policy needs to be carefully monitored if it is not to impact negatively on already disadvantaged children.

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