OECD: Little evidence to show that the money being spent on education reforms is working

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, said that too often headline grabbing initiatives were launched - but too often 'there is little follow-up' to see if they are effective

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Millions of pounds are being spent on education reforms in the UK without effective evaluation as to whether they are working, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, said that too often headline grabbing initiatives were launched - but too often “there is little follow-up” to see if they are effective.

Governments needed to adopt a much more scientific approach to their education reforms to see whether they were working, he added.  Research by the OECD showed that of 450 education reforms introduced worldwide only 10 per cent were properly evaluated as to their effectiveness - and the picture in the UK was very much in line with the international findings.

“It is not acceptable if we want to improve educational outcomes,” he added.

There was political pressure for short-term results, he conceded,  “The temptation when there is a new government coming in to say ‘we have a new idea’ is very great,” he said. “This valuable investment must be deployed in the most effective way,  Reforms on paper need to translate into better education in our schools and classrooms.”

His comments won backing from teachers’ leaders who argued ministers needed to take a more evidence-based approach to introducing school reforms.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said policies nededs to be based “upon sound evidence regarding teaching and learning, building consensus amongst the profession and piloting proposals before they are committed to”.

“We also need some political consensus on important reforms so that we don’t flip-flop between changes every time a government minister changes.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, added: “Throughout the process (of reform) the concerns of schools, teachers, pupils and expert bodies have been ignored. 

“Schools have been thrown into turmoil by the changes with inadequate support and information for teachers.

However, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan deliver a robust defence of the Government’s reforms at the Education World Forum in London - where the OECD had launched its report.

She said that - when the Government had come into power in 2010 -  education standards “had stagnated”.  “We knew we needed to make urgent reform and look to the world’s leading education systems for inspiration”.

“Our plan for education is working,” she said.  There were more outstanding schools and teachers with top degree passes, teacher exchange visits had been arranged with Shanghai - the leading performer on the education world stage.  “More of our people are studying the core academic subjects they need to get on in life,” she added.  Over 40 countries had visited her department in the past two years to see if they could learn from its reforms.

However, she added:  “We know there is much more to do - particularly on teacher quality both here in the UK and abroad.”

As a result, she announced the results of a review of teacher training which called for more emphasis on pupil behaviour on courses. Teachers, said the government-instigated report, should be given more training on behaviour management - including tips on how best to project their voices and on body language - as well as advice on how to defuse situations in schools.

She also announced guidance on new standards for headteachers - which said they must demonstrate “optimistic personal behaviour” and “hold and articulate clear values and moral purpose”.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the OECD yesterday warned the use of setting and streaming in schools in the UK could hamper attempts to give all pupils an equal opportunity to shine. It revealed nearly two out of three pupils (62.9 per cent) in UK secondary schools were taught in sets (where they are put into different ability groups according to their prowess in individual subjects0 or Streamed (where they remain in top or bottom sets for all subjects).

In addition, it showed that immigrants in UK schools performed better than the international average.  The difference between their performance and home students was only six per cent compared with an average of 21 per cent throughout the OECD.