Equity and Quality in Education – Part 3

3Di recognises there are major issues concerning setting and streaming pupils. Presumably we can all agree that by effectively telling groups of pupils that they’re either inferior or superior to other pupils, and always will be, this can be very bad for pupils in both groups? On the other hand, if there are teachers who have been trained to do only whole-class teaching and to teach to the ‘average’ pupil, and also teachers who find it difficult to differentiate properly for the very different needs of pupils within a mixed ability class of 30 . . .

Clearly there are teachers who needed better initial training and would benefit from further in-service training. Even within a streamed or setted class there’s a need for differentiation – especially to meet the different needs and learning styles of pupils. This is a huge subject, and not one we propose to go into in detail here.

However, here are a few interesting quotes from another blog – written by Patrick Watson who blogs as Montrose42:

Improving equity in student outcomes remains a critical challenge for every country in the OECD. Across OECD countries, almost one in every five students does not reach a basic minimum level of skills. In addition, students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are twice as likely to be low performers.

Even those countries with the lowest levels of inequity must still be concerned with gaps in outcomes that are not related to students’ motivation and capacity, while in other countries the inequities are so large as to pose a fundamental challenge to on-going security and prosperity.

A new OECD report, Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, provides a cogent analysis and many ideas for addressing these issues. The report provides a blueprint for any country that wishes to make genuine progress in promoting equity while also improving quality.

Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential (fairness) and that that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills (inclusion). In these education systems, the vast majority of students have the opportunity to attain high level skills, regardless of their own personal and socio-economic circumstances.

Here is one passage from the report focusing on the need for high quality teachers and continuing professional development: ‘ Despite the large effect of teachers on student performance, disadvantaged schools are not always staffed with the highest quality teachers. (Confirmed by research undertaken by the last UK Government) Policies must raise teacher quality for disadvantaged schools and students by: providing targeted teacher education to ensure that teachers receive the skills and knowledge they need for working in schools with disadvantaged students; providing mentoring programmes for novice teachers; developing supportive working conditions to improve teacher effectiveness and increase teacher retention; and develop adequate financial and career incentives to attract and retain high quality teachers in disadvantaged schools.’

The larger issue is whether countries will have the will and skill to make these changes. As outlined in the 2008 book, ‘How to Change 5000 Schools’, by Professor Ben Levin of the University of Toronto , knowing what to do is important but not enough. In many cases we already know what to do, but we do not do it. As a simple example, consider physical exercise and good eating habits. Everyone knows these are essential to health, yet many people simply do not do them. How much more difficult to make changes in a large and complex institution like a school system!

There are two aspects to effective implementation of the right changes according to Professor Levin. The first is whether the will exists to make the changes. In many cases the beneficiaries of the status quo will be vocal in opposing anything that they think might diminish the relative advantage of their children. Less streaming is one good example of this situation, he says, often opposed by parents and teachers who benefit from a streamed system despite the strong evidence that this practice is, overall, a bad one. There can be very difficult politics around making some of the changes that would actually benefit students. These conflicts cannot be ignored; they must be faced directly.

Second, and just as important, according to Professor Levin is whether systems have the capacity to bring real change about. As the report notes, real improvement requires real changes in classroom practice. These do not occur through issuing policy statements, developing new curricula, or even through changes in accountability and testing. Changing people’s daily behaviour takes sustained and relentless attention to the way daily work is done. This attention must extend over time and take into account everything the organization does. Very few countries have this capacity. Very few ministries of education have much capacity to lead and support school improvement. Very few school leaders know how to do this work.


Very well said, Mr Watson.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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