4. Evidence use in Austrian schools: International comparative data

There have been significant changes in official responsibilities for key decisions in the Austrian school system. Ten years ago, Austrian schools enjoyed less autonomy, compared to other OECD countries, with the majority of key decisions taken at the federal or provincial levels (OECD, 2012[1]).

Data collected from school leaders in PISA 2015 highlighted the comparatively lower levels of autonomy in Austrian schools. Compared to the OECD average, decision making was more centralised, with the federal government having more responsibility for teacher salaries, formulating school budgets and deciding the offer and content of courses, while the provinces had more responsibility for selecting and firing teachers (OECD, 2016[2]). However, there were notable exceptions where Austrian schools enjoyed comparatively greater autonomy. This included deciding on budget allocations within the school, establishing student assessment policies, and approving students for admission to the school.

With changes introduced in 2017, OECD administrative data indicate that Austrian schools now enjoy comparatively more responsibility for key decisions than in the OECD on average (OECD, 2018[3]). A major new school responsibility is the selection of teachers, as well as conducting training and further education planning discussions. Schools can make decisions on teacher professional development in full autonomy. Other autonomy gains include opening times, class numbers and flexible organisation of lesson times (BMBWF, 2019[4]). These increased responsibilities have important implications for Austrian school leaders. To promote a common understanding of school management, an official profile was established as part of the 2017 reform. This can serve as a basis for the development of initial and further education programmes and also for school quality managers in their work in supervising and supporting school quality. The essential school management tasks are (BMBWF, 2019[4]):

  • strategic orientation of school education

  • continuous development of teaching

  • establishment of structures and process design

  • personnel and material resources management

  • selection of teachers

  • staff development for teachers

  • management of administrative and support staff

  • internal and external communication

  • conflict and crisis management

  • self-reflection and self-development.

Austrian teachers play a lead role in many school-level decisions (OECD, 2020[5]). In 2018, a comparatively high proportion of Austrian lower secondary teachers (83%, compared to the OECD average 77%) report that they have opportunities to actively participate in school decisions. Among lower secondary schools with management teams, the vast majority of Austrian school leaders report that teachers are represented on the team. In fact, 70% report that teachers have significant responsibility in a majority of tasks related to school policies, curriculum and instruction. Regarding one of the newer areas of school autonomy, 81% of Austrian lower secondary teachers report that they have control over determining course content (compared to an OECD average of 84%) (OECD, 2020[5]).

In 2008, the New Secondary School Reform (Neue Mittelschule, NMS) introduced new roles for teachers, including subject coordinators and school development teams. New Secondary Schools (NMS) have since replaced the previous General Secondary Schools (Hauptschule, HS) and new roles for teachers have been comprehensively adopted. The 2008 reform also introduced resources for team teaching in a single classroom (Nusche et al., 2016[6]). This hoped to stimulate a more collaborative working culture and appears to have had some success: In 2018 Austrian lower secondary teachers report high levels of collegiality and indeed greater professional collaboration and exchange and co-ordination for teaching compared to the OECD average (OECD, 2020[5]).

In 2015, Austrian school leader reports indicate that several quality assurance practices were less prominent in Austrian schools than in the OECD on average (OECD, 2016[2]). These include practices to promote more coherence in teaching and learning, including written specification of the school’s curricular profile, educational goals and student performance standards. Around half of Austrian school leaders reported that their school had not implemented a standardised policy for reading subjects in 2018, similar to reports in 2015 regarding science subjects. Austrian lower secondary teachers also report comparatively less coherent beliefs among staff about teaching and learning in 2018 (61% in Austria, 76% in the OECD on average) (OECD, 2020[5]).

Although external evaluation is comparatively less prominent in Austrian lower secondary schools, school principals report initiatives to gather evidence from other sources. Regular consultation with experts for school improvement and seeking feedback from students is more prominent in Austrian schools than in the OECD on average, according to school leader reports in 2015 (Figure 4.2).In a similar vein, Austrian school leader reports indicate use of a broad set of evidence for monitoring teaching practices, including the observation of classes by the school leader, senior staff, inspectors or other external experts and teacher peer review (Figure 4.1).

Reports also show an increase in the use of student tests to monitor teaching practices between 2003 and 2012. Similar to their international counterparts, Austrian lower secondary teachers who report multiple methods of feedback on their teaching are more likely to find this has a positive impact on their teaching practices (OECD, 2020[5]).

A primary source of evidence in all schools is, of course, student assessments. Austrian school leader reports in 2015 indicate comparatively greater use of tests/assessment for summative assessment of individual students. There is widely reported use of tests/assessments for awarding certificates to students or deciding on their retention or promotion, greater than on average in the OECD. However, it is of note that teacher-developed tests are less frequently used than in the OECD on average, with more reliance on teacher judgemental ratings (OECD, 2016[2]). In light of the central role that teachers play in student assessment, it is striking that comparatively fewer Austrian lower secondary teachers reported that feedback on their practices had led to a positive change in using student assessments to improve student learning (32% in Austria; 50% in the OECD on average) (OECD, 2020[5]).

However, compared to on average in the OECD, there is less reported use of student assessment results for monitoring and comparing school performance. Austrian school leader reports in 2015 indicate that the use of standardised tests is far less prominent in Austrian schools, compared to average in the OECD (Table 4.1). However, in 2015 nearly two-thirds of students were in schools where the school leader reports that students achievement data are tracked over time by an administrative authority (OECD, 2016[2]).


[4] BMBWF (2019), Steuerung des Schulsystems in Österreich: Weissbuch [Governance of the Education System in Austria: White Paper], Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung, Abt. III/3, http://www.bmbwf.gv.at.

[6] Nusche, D. et al. (2016), OECD Reviews of School Resources: Austria 2016, OECD Reviews of School Resources, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264256729-en.

[5] OECD (2020), TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/19cf08df-en.

[3] OECD (2018), Education at a Glance 2018: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2018-en.

[2] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264267510-en.

[1] OECD (2012), Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2012-en.

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