Executive summary

The overarching goal of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) is to describe the working conditions, learning environments and levels of professionalism of teachers and school leaders around the world. This report, Teachers Getting the Best out of their Students: From Primary to Upper Secondary Education, continues this tradition by expanding the data on teacher professionalism to primary and upper secondary education, as well as deepening its analysis within education levels. Of the 48 countries and economies that participated in TALIS 2018, 15 chose to conduct the survey in primary education and 11 in upper secondary. The principal objective guiding these analyses is to understand whether the dimensions of professionalism found in primary and upper secondary education are similar to those in found in lower secondary education.

The fact that teaching is a largely feminised profession is not a surprise at this point. However, in lower levels of education, there are far more women than men. In primary education, almost three out of four teachers are women. Teachers are important references for gender roles and stereotypes, especially for younger students.

The data drawn from primary education shows that there is a challenge regarding building more inclusive classrooms. At this level, a high share of teachers report that they do not feel sufficiently prepared to teach students with special needs, feel stress about preparing lessons catering for these students and consider that support for these students should be a spending priority. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for the development of children, but education systems must go beyond providing adequate training to teachers to also embrace schools and provide the support staff require to help students progress with their learning.

That is not the only difficulty faced by primary teachers, as a high share of teachers report not feeling prepared in classroom management and spending too much time on keeping order in the classroom. Training and support are great tools for building teachers’ confidence, but unfortunately induction activities reach only small numbers of teachers and mentoring opportunities are equally scarce.

Regarding teachers’ involvement in helping students transition from pre-primary to primary and their training in facilitating play, less than half of the teachers in primary education stated that they had had training in this area. This is problematic in terms of ensuring children can build on their prior learning. Facilitating play is one mechanism for doing so, especially as TALIS shows that teachers who have had training in this area also implement practices that stimulate children cognitively.

Upper secondary education benefits from having teachers with experience outside of the education field who are connected to specific professions in the labour market. That being said, diversity of background should not justify a lack of preparation. TALIS results show that, compared to lower secondary education, there is a lower share of teachers in upper secondary education whose training encompassed content and pedagogy of their subject. It is crucial to monitor these cases to ensure that these teachers have the required skills and, if not, to provide supplementary programmes that will help them respond to the demands of their job.

TALIS findings show that teachers in vocational education and training (VET) more often engage in cognitively stimulating practices than their non-VET colleagues. Thus, there is potential for teachers in general programmes to learn from their VET colleagues through mentorship programmes and peer collaboration. Unfortunately, the share of teachers who engaged in professional collaboration in upper secondary is lower than in other levels of education. Teachers have much to gain in learning from the experience of their colleagues, so mechanisms to stimulate participation at this level are warranted.

Beyond the specific issues in primary and upper secondary education, it was possible to identify common challenges for all levels. One of the issues is the need to offer attractive working conditions and arrangements to draw the best candidates to the profession. Part-time contracts could be a way for schools to have the flexibility necessary to have sufficient staff in response to emerging issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, TALIS data show that part-time working arrangements are still relatively rare across all levels. More exploration is warranted to explain the reasons why there is still a low share of teachers working part-time and in what ways part-time contracts can help contribute to a more dynamic workforce.

Another common issue observed across all levels of education is that, despite teachers reporting that their schools are implementing policies to respond to the gender, socio-economic and ethnic diversity of students, many still feel that they need training to work with students with special needs, to work in multicultural/multilingual environments and to develop skills for individualised learning. Training in this area is important, but it is also essential to building a more diverse workforce to respond to these needs.

One crucial aspect common to all education levels that is particularly acute in the COVID-19 crisis is preparation for the use of digital technologies. Indeed, when schools reopen, they will probably be using some form of hybrid learning that will require teachers to have the skills to not only operate these technologies but also to use them with a clear pedagogical purpose. Peer collaboration and mentorship within schools could be a valuable asset in this area

Finally, teachers’ well-being is paramount. If teachers are expected to act as professionals, they should be treated as such. For most teachers, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to huge changes, involving longer working hours and additional workload. Attention should be paid to work-life balance for teachers, as TALIS results showed that major sources of stress include administrative work, keeping up with the requirements of authorities and being held responsible for students’ achievement. All these sources of stress could be more arduous during these difficult times. Furthermore, TALIS findings show that, with higher levels of stress, teachers are more likely to report wanting to leave teaching within the next five years. However, the findings also show that there are ways to reduce stress and the risk of attrition. Supportive school environments and satisfaction with terms of employment are some of the measures that can help in this area.

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