What works in education: How to be top

Our Chief Executive, Bernard McLeary pointed me towards an interesting article from The Economist magazine – ‘What works in education: the lessons according to McKinsey’

[Full text of report from McKinsey]

It’s well worth a read. The findings are that the countries doing well by international standards (PISA) – Finland, Canada, Singapore, South Korea – all do some things in common.

According to the consultancy outfit McKinsey they all do three things very well:
1. Get the best teachers
2. Get the best out of teachers
3. Step in when pupils start to fall behind

It seems that pay is not the most important factor in getting the top graduates to become teachers but status and value are. In Finland all new teachers must have a master’s degree. South Korea recruits primary teachers from the top 5% of graduates so there is fierce competition for entry into the profession.

Support and training (cpd) seem to be crucial. Especially in terms of collaborative learning around communities of practice. Singapore gives teachers 100 hours of training per year. Teachers in Finland get half a day a week to work with other teachers.

Early intervention and a big investment in ‘special-education teachers’ is important. Singapore provides extra lessons for the lowest performing 20% of students, Finland has the largest proportion of teachers focussed on the lowest performing learners.

So in summary, and by my reading of the article, it would appear to be that the usual suspects:

  • the level of investments in education (relatively low in Singapore)
  • higher salaries for teachers (Germany, Spain and Switzerland)
  • more tests (England and USA)
  • more rigorous inspection regimes (Finland doesn’t even have a schools inspectorate)

are not the magic bullets of success, however important they might still be. What schools need to focus on is recruiting well, investing heavily in collegiate professional development and dealing with learning difficulties as early as possible and as often as required.