New OECD report takes aim at teacher salaries, class size and gender equality

The release of the 2017 edition of the OECD’s ‘Education at a Glance’ contains data supporting Education International’s position that teacher salaries remain stagnant and that class size does have an impact on student outcomes.

The report, released 12 September, provides an up-to-date compilation of existing OECD data from all of its studies, including PISA, TALIS, and PIAAC and its indicators of Education Systems programme, INES. It draws on all of the data available to it including external sources. Unlike PISA or TALIS, it is not a product of original research but it provides a useful bank of statistics for policy makers to use, including Education international (EI) and its affiliates.

“Once again, the OECD’s 'Education at a Glance' provides a treasure trove of evidence. There is still much improvement which has to take place in even the world’s most developed countries if all children and young people are to benefit from education,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “The damaging effect on teacher supply and morale of enforced pay freezes and cuts remains shockingly evident. As the OECD makes clear, low teachers’ pay is damaging the prospects of future generations by discouraging young people from entering the profession.”

Teachers’ salaries/compensation

Probably the starkest finding is on teachers’ salaries/compensation. The report outlines that due to low levels of compensation the profession has become increasingly unattractive to students seeking careers. This situation is compounded by the fact that the teaching profession continues to age.

The current dilemma traces back to the delayed impact of the 2008 economic downturn. Teachers’ salaries were either frozen or cut and the average was at its lowest in 2013. Although there has been a partial improvement in salaries in some countries teachers’ salaries have not been restored to their previous levels and do not have parity with other similar professions.

Class size

Despite the OECD’s data on the factors impacting on teachers’ salaries costs, including class size, the OECD recognise that there is ‘some evidence that smaller classes may benefit specific groups of students, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds…’ This represents a new, if partial recognition by the OECD that class size does have an impact on student outcomes.

Gender Equality

The report also contains some strong findings on continuing inequities in relation to gender.

“Rightly the report emphasises how much further governments have to go in tackling gender equality. There can be no ‘no go’ areas for young women and men to achieve their full potential,” said van Leeuwen.

Despite the fact that women are more likely to complete their degrees than men, tertiary educated men still have better labour market outcomes in terms of employment and salaries than women. One OECD conclusion is that, ‘Gender parity in graduation rates is still a distant dream for some fields of study, particularly upper secondary education’.

Disadvantaged students

There is a strong finding in the ‘Education at a Glance’ on the need for support for disadvantaged students. This includes children of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

The report concludes that ‘Parents’ education level has a greater impact than age or gender on the likelihood of attaining a tertiary type A or an advanced research degree.’ Indeed the EAG concludes that high levels of education may play a role in preventing depression. The OECD sees through the data that wellbeing and mental health are influenced by the educational experience of students. As with parents’ qualifications, those from advantaged backgrounds who attain tertiary qualifications have lower incidences of depression.

Van Leeuwen welcomed a “focus in the report on the impact of social disadvantage. Many governments are still failing their poorest children by not providing the right levels of support to their families and to schools.” 

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