1. Overview: Opportunities and challenges for the teaching profession from primary to upper secondary education

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. The evidence presented by TALIS seeks to help policy makers review and develop policies that promote the teaching profession and the best conditions for effective teaching and learning. 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 across education levels as well as deepening analysis within education levels. 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 relevance of the question is tied to the ability of education systems to provide students with quality educational opportunities across all levels. If professionalisation of the teaching workforce is a crucial factor to ensure quality education, it must be assured across all education levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and further stressed several components of professionalism. Indeed, according to the most recent OECD/UNESCO-UIS/UNICEF/World Bank Special Survey on COVID-19,1 the vast majority of OECD systems required all their teachers to keep teaching during the school closure period in 2020 (OECD, 2021[1]). This was the case for 25 OECD countries in primary and lower secondary education and 28 in upper secondary education. The sudden transition to distance and hybrid learning has required teachers to adapt swiftly to new technologies and learning modalities. The reduced teaching time has also meant prioritising curriculum content and developing new planning for classes in a short period of time. The pandemic has required many teachers to acquire new skills and new responsibilities almost overnight. That being said, teachers have been extremely resourceful, collaborative and creative in responding to emerging needs (OECD, 2021[2]).

Although TALIS 2018 data were collected prior to the crisis, they can still shed some light on how well the teaching profession in multiple education systems was prepared to respond to the changes brought on by COVID-19. Furthermore, TALIS can provide insights on how the teaching profession at different levels of education may have responded.

To guide this data exploration, the report tackles three research questions:

  • What are the dimensions and levels of teachers’ and school leaders’ professionalism in primary and upper secondary education?

  • What are some of the educational challenges unique to each education level?

  • What are the factors that could explain the differences in the levels of professionalism observed across education levels?

Although these questions are analytically distinguishable, they are interrelated. Indeed, to know what is particular at each education level, it is important to acknowledge what sets it apart from other levels and what the unique factors at each level reveal about the levels of professionalism.

Thus, instead of addressing these three questions separately, the report discusses them jointly through five empirical chapters following the teaching career pathway model of professionalism introduced in the first chapter of TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals (OECD, 2020[3]). The teacher career pathway model broadly encompasses five stages for teachers’ career progress: 1) attracting and selecting teachers; 2) developing teachers for effective practices; 3) supporting teachers through in-service training and feedback; 4) empowering the profession through leadership, autonomy and collaboration; and 5) retaining teachers by fostering stimulating working and learning environments. These five stages of teachers’ career development present an articulated and cohesive policy narrative from which a holistic view of the levels of professionalism across different levels of education can be developed. Consequently, each of the chapters in this report addresses one of the stages of the teacher career pathway:

  • Chapter 2, Attracting and selecting high-calibre candidates, focuses on the demographic characteristics of principals and teachers, as well as on their motivations to join the profession, along with the characteristics of their places of work.

  • Chapter 3, Preparing teachers and leaders as expert professionals, looks at the pre-service training of teachers and school leaders and their subject-specific profiles.

  • Chapter 4, Enabling lifelong learning of teaching professionals through in-service opportunities, addresses topics concerning induction, mentoring, professional development and the use of feedback in schools.

  • Chapter 5, Empowering teaching professionals, addresses topics concerning school organisation, teacher autonomy, collaboration and policy priorities reported by teachers.

  • Chapter 6, Building fulfilling working conditions, well-being and satisfactory jobs, explores teachers’ working conditions and arrangements, along with their job satisfaction, levels of stress and intentions to leave teaching.

A survey among lower secondary teachers and their principals was the default form of participation for all TALIS 2018 participants. The implementation of the survey in primary education and upper secondary education was optional. Of the 48 countries and economies that participated in the study,2 15 participated in primary education (from which data is available for 13) and 11 participated in upper secondary education.3

This first chapter synthesises the most relevant policy findings identified across the five empirical chapters and their implications for education policy. The first section of the chapter covers the main findings common across education levels. It is followed by a section on the specific issues concerning primary education and concludes with a section on findings and policy pointers specific to upper secondary education.

For the last 15 years, the TALIS study has collected policy-relevant data on lower secondary teachers while at the same time serving as a voice for the views and opinions of teaching professionals on their working environments, needs and perceptions of their work. By expanding the data collection to primary and upper secondary education, TALIS 2018 offers countries and economies participating in these optional modules a comprehensive view of the teaching profession for the 12 years of core schooling (i.e. International Standard Classification of Education [ISCED] level 1 to ISCED level 3 – primary education to upper secondary education). With this additional data, analysis allows for a more complete overview of the status of the teaching profession.

Although a different set of countries and economies participated in primary and upper secondary education, the analysis shows that there were some recurrent topics across the three education levels. This may point to pervasive and enduring issues for the teaching profession. This section summarises the findings from the report that are recurrent across education levels. Four topics were identified: ensuring inclusive learning environments; creating mechanisms for attracting highly qualified teachers; promoting the use of digital technologies; and fostering teachers’ well-being. Attention is also placed on the relevance of these results and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The first stage of the teacher career pathway involves the mechanisms to attract candidates to the profession. Thus, it is relevant to have a good understanding of what could be the drivers for joining the profession. Altruistic motivations are the most predominant factors for teachers to join the profession (OECD, 2019[4]). Considerations such as “teaching allowed me to influence the development of children and young people”, “teaching allowed me to benefit the socially disadvantaged” and “teaching allowed me to provide a contribution to society” were important motivations to join the profession for at least three out of four teachers in primary and upper secondary education (Table 2.13). At the same time (OECD, 2019[4]), job security is another important consideration for teachers to join the profession. Across all levels, over 67% of teachers reported that teaching being a “steady career path” and a “secure job” was an element of moderate or high importance in deciding to become a teacher (Table 2.13). In addition, more than 80% of teachers work under a permanent contract and full-time (across all teaching jobs) across the three education levels (Tables 6.1 and 6.4) (Table 1.1).4

It is important to reflect on the predominance of full-time contracts and the limited presence of part-time working arrangements. Overly rigid contractual arrangements may hamper the flexibility of education systems and schools to adapt to emerging education situations (OECD, 2019[5]; OECD, 2010[6]). Part-time contracts are useful mechanisms employed by schools to respond to fluctuation in the demands for teachers (Nusche et al., 2015[7]). In addition, flexible time arrangements such as part-time contracts might enable attracting new types of profiles into teaching, thereby contributing to diversity in the supply of teachers in terms of their skills and socio-demographic composition (OECD, 2019[8]). This might be of particular relevance in upper secondary education, as more specialised skills might be needed for specific subjects. Indeed, in vocational education and training (VET), teachers bring experience and knowledge of their particular areas of expertise in the labour market (e.g. finance, electronics, computer science, cosmetology, medical assistance). Part-time contracts would make it easier for professionals in these areas to move into the educational field, although such contacts should not come at the expense of teachers’ working conditions and teaching skills (OECD, 2021[9]).

Part-time arrangements can be voluntary or involuntary (e.g. due to a lack of full-time job opportunities). Unfortunately, TALIS 2018 does not collect data on the reasons why teachers work under a full-time or part-time arrangement. However a recent study conducted in England (United Kingdom), based on the survey responses of 475 teachers and 19 school leaders in secondary schools, showed that the percentage of teachers expressing a desire to work part-time was double that of the percentage of teachers who actually did it (Sharp et al., 2019[10]). The main limitation for working part-time, according to these teachers, is that it was not a financially sustainable option for them. In addition, school leaders objected to the expansion of this form of employment, as it can present obstacles such as the need to co-ordinate different timetables and work schedules, communications issues and additional costs involved in managing a larger staff. However, the same study found that school principals identified four advantages of offering part-time arrangements: 1) it enabled them to retain effective teachers who might otherwise have left the school; 2) it had a positive impact on staff well-being, leading to improved energy and creativity for the whole staff; 3) it helped to retain specialist expertise and maintain the breadth of the curriculum; and 4) it was an opportunity to reduce costs for subjects that do not need a full-time teacher (for example, due to a reduction on the number of students opting for that subject) (Sharp et al., 2019[10]).

Despite these advantages, part-time work and arrangements need to be assessed carefully, as they can carry penalties in terms of standard of living (when this is not by choice), earnings-related pensions and career progression (OECD, 2010[6]). TALIS 2018 data show that, at the system level, in both primary and upper secondary education, the higher the share of women working part-time the lower the share of women in leadership positions, although the strength of this correlation is weak to moderate. Regarding the implications of part-time work for the development of professional practices, TALIS 2018 finds that, for six countries and economies in primary and upper secondary education, teachers with full-time contracts were more likely to engage in professional learning than teachers with part-time contracts (Tables 6.7 and 6.8). As this evidence is not conclusive, more research should be done on the implication of part-time work for the quality and level of professionalism of teachers’ work.

For some education systems, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a proliferation of teacher absences and shortages, due to teachers getting sick or having to isolate due to contact with cases of COVID infection (OECD, 2021[2]). This could have implications for recruitment practices and staff policies. However, such revisions only occurred in a limited set of OECD countries. Results from a recent OECD survey showed that 11 OECD countries in primary education, 8 in lower secondary education and 9 in upper secondary education hired new teachers for school reopening in 2020/21 (OECD, 2021[1]). Of the 28 OECD countries that monitored changes in teacher recruitment and reported having recruited temporary teachers and/or other staff to support students in the context of the pandemic, 8 countries in lower secondary education and 9 in primary and lower secondary education recruited temporary teachers or other staff during the 2019/20 school year to support teachers, and only 4 reported hiring them for the reopening of schools for 2020/21 (OECD, 2021[1]). These preliminary results show that education systems may not have immediately or necessarily changed their working arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic, although it will be important to further examine the working stability of teachers and how it will evolve during these challenging times. Indeed, as hybrid learning expands and becomes more common, it will also be important to monitor how the range of teachers’ tasks shifts and whether this will translate to specific changes in the number or the type of contracts (permanent or temporary) and their hourly arrangements (full-time or part-time). Particular education sectors, such as early childhood education and care (ECEC), could be susceptible, as private provision is more common and there is less job security and more financial instability for ECEC centres (OECD, 2020[11]).

Policy makers could explore flexible mechanisms to integrate a wider and more diverse set of professionals from the labour market into schools. Part-time arrangements could be negotiated through a reconfiguration of the teaching timetable, along with strategies such as sharing subject specialists with another school. Regarding the possible limitations in accessing leadership that part-time arrangements could involve, it will be important to review the areas of responsibility within schools and to develop a system of distributed leadership based on delegation of tasks, job sharing or deputising roles. On the relevance of maintaining collaboration, it is important to ensure fluid and transparent communication by ensuring part-time teachers have remote access to their school and classrooms through the use of information and communication technology (ICT), such as e-mail, texts messages and virtual meetings. Equally crucial is making part-time teachers feel involved in the school organisation (Sharp et al., 2019[10]).

One of the greatest challenges of education systems worldwide is to promote the learning and well-being of all. A fundamental action toward this goal is to develop inclusive classroom environments for increasingly heterogeneous student populations (Brussino, forthcoming[12]). To achieve this, it is important to value diversity as an asset rather than a challenge. Inclusive education refers the capacity of school systems to provide quality education to all students, respecting diversity and the different needs and abilities, characteristics and learning expectations of the students and communities, eliminating all forms of discrimination (Brussino, forthcoming[12]).

The COVID-19 pandemic not only brought existing inequalities to the forefront but also, in some contexts, exacerbated them. Students with disabilities, from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, or from historically disfranchised groups were less likely to be able to access the resources required for digital or hybrid lessons or to keep up with them (UNESCO et al., 2021[13]). In this way, the pandemic might be affecting and holding back concrete efforts by countries and economies to reinforce social linkages and promote diversity as a societal value. As the next stage of the teacher career pathway, concerning development and support in their instruction, catering to inclusive classrooms is an area that warrants special attention.

Evidence from 2020 indicates that less than half of OECD countries reported undertaking special efforts to make online learning more accessible to migrant and displaced children, including those in refugee camps, or designing learning materials for speakers of minority languages. Countries that implemented at least half of these measures from primary to upper secondary education were Belgium (Flemish and French Communities), Chile, Colombia, England (United Kingdom), Estonia, France, Japan, Korea, Latvia, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. In these countries, such measures were implemented at the primary, lower secondary or upper secondary levels of education (OECD, 2021[2]).

TALIS results prior to the pandemic show that schools were already addressing policies concerning the diversity and inclusion of students. On average across participating countries and economies, around one out of three teachers considered “supporting students from disadvantaged or migrant backgrounds” as a priority area of high interest in both primary education and upper secondary education (Table 1.2). In addition, around half of the teachers in primary education and upper secondary education considered that supporting students with special needs is a priority issue (Table 5.29).

In primary education, of the countries and economies just mentioned, several have already reported a set of policies and practices to foster inclusion in their schools. In England (United Kingdom), France, Korea and Spain, more than 80% of teachers in primary education work in a school where policies addressing ethnic and cultural discrimination have been implemented. In the case of upper secondary education, 80% of teachers in Portugal and Slovenia work in schools with those characteristics. Percentages remain high for other indicators, such as policies supporting activities or organisations encouraging students' expression of diverse ethnic and cultural identities, organising multicultural events and adopting teaching and learning practices that integrate global issues throughout the curriculum (Table 2.26) (Table 1.2). Thus, the policies implemented in 2020 in response to COVID-19 might have been embedded in wider policy traditions of inclusiveness, aiming also for the inclusion of minorities.

TALIS results showed that even though training is somewhat widespread, there is still a considerable proportion of teachers who reported that they do not feel prepared. In both primary and upper secondary education, almost half of the teachers stated that they had training in teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings. Training in these areas seems to be more widespread in recent years, as a larger share of novice teachers (those with up to five years of experience) reported having had training in this area than more experienced teachers in both primary and upper secondary education (Tables 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9). However, only around a third of teachers reported that they feel prepared for teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings (Table 3.13). Furthermore, despite the training received, teaching students with special needs and teaching in multicultural and multilingual classrooms are still among the areas in which the largest share of teachers (around one out of five) reported training needs in both primary education and upper secondary education (Tables 1.2 and 4.24). The fact that training for “individualised learning” is also an area where teachers reported needs may speak to a need for further guidance for more student-tailored instruction. These results might point to a growing awareness among teaching professionals of the need for training to work in diverse classrooms. It might also reflect a growing diversity in classrooms. Indeed, prior TALIS analysis conducted for lower secondary education showed that for some countries and economies, an increase in the share of teachers reporting a need for training in teaching students with special needs has been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of students with these characteristics in the classroom (OECD, 2019[4]).

Education systems need to keep supporting school principals and teachers and designing school policies and practices that support the learning of all students, respecting their abilities, learning needs and social or cultural origins and to equip teachers to meet this challenge. These policies can include information sessions for students and teachers to raise their awareness about ethnic and/or cultural discrimination, integration of global issues into the curriculum, adoption of concrete teaching practices to support and foster inclusive classrooms, and training of teachers in these areas. A possible solution is to adopt policies to hire teachers from diverse backgrounds and develop short-term preparation programmes for migrant teachers joining the workforce so that the teaching workforce can be more diverse and more closely reflect the diversity of the student body. Fast-track programmes can enable newly arrived teachers to learn about the pedagogical practices specific to the host countries, such as teacher-student interactions and classroom routines and traditions. Teacher training programmes for diverse classrooms are another tool at the disposal of policy makers and school leaders. These training programmes should ideally cover pedagogical approaches for second language learning and support strategies to foster the social integration of students in diverse settings (Cerna, 2019[14]). These initiatives should be also accompanied by efforts to address diversity at its root by getting students with diverse backgrounds into initial teacher education programmes (Brussino, forthcoming[12]). Finally, the need for more student-tailored responses should be met with training addressing teaching students with special needs and schools/systems supporting more holistically the most socially disadvantaged students (e.g. school meals, partnerships with social workers and help with school-based homework when there is no support for this at home).

Several of the countries and economies participating in TALIS have promising policies in place to support more inclusive classrooms. Since 2008, Slovenia has been implementing a comprehensive school-wide programme to support schools and teachers providing instruction to Roma students. Results reported by Council of Europe include attendance of Roma children in educational institutions, improved co-operation between Roma parents and educational institutions, increased awareness among Roma of the importance of learning and education, and more successful co-operation between teaching assistants, teachers and Roma parents in the education of Roma children (for more details see Chapter 2, Box 2.2.).

The most highlighted issue related to teaching since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has probably been teachers’ training for and use of ICT. In addition, as students coming from more socio-economically advantaged backgrounds tend to be allocated to schools with more resources (OECD, 2019[15]), students from disadvantaged backgrounds might not have access to the required ICT resources (e.g. infrastructure, equipment, staff expertise and training) to ensure their continuous learning.

Two out of three OECD countries have supported teachers in their transition to remote teaching by offering content adapted to the specificities of remote teaching (e.g. open educational resources, lesson plans), instructions on distance teaching (e.g. TV, radio, learning platforms), and special ICT professional development activities (e.g. workshops and webinars) on pedagogy and ICT use (OECD, 2021[2]). School reopening will not shift attention away from the needs of teachers to further develop their skills in using digital technology for teaching, as the requirements for hybrid learning are likely to remain widespread in coming years. Spain presents a relevant example on the use of technology during these times through the digital education programme ProFuturo, which provides training courses and educational resources to teachers and students, with more than 160 online training courses and digital resources for teachers focused on the development of their pedagogical and digital skills. In addition, ProFuturo adapted methodologies and content during the pandemic to reach students without access to technology or Internet connectivity, ensuring that no one was left behind (for more details, see Chapter 4, Box 4.3)

Based on pre-pandemic TALIS 2018 data, more than 60% of teachers in both primary and upper secondary education reported having received training in ICT for teaching, and the share of novice teachers reporting receiving such training was significantly higher than the share of experienced teachers (those with more than five years of experience) (Tables 3.7, 3.8, 3.9) (Table 1.3).

That being said, the use of ICT in classrooms seems to be more frequent in upper secondary education than in primary education. On average for those countries and economies with data available, 60% of teachers in upper secondary reported that they “frequently” or “always” use ICT in their classroom, compared to 40% at the primary level (Table 3.31). Similarly, it is possible to identify that there seems to be a higher share of teachers in upper secondary who feel prepared to use ICT in their instruction (Table 3.13). The proportion of teachers reporting a need for training in ICT is relatively similar in primary and upper secondary, with a slightly higher share in primary education. More exploration is needed to better understand why the need for training is apparently lower in primary education than in upper secondary, as it might be due to differences in the socio-demographic profile of teachers (e.g. age, experience) or to the type of training they received. These results should be interpreted carefully, as the groups of countries and economies behind these averages are different for primary and upper secondary education (Table 1.3).

It is important to note that TALIS results reflect teachers’ use of digital technology in regular classroom practice, among other pedagogical tools for instruction. The pandemic has brought about a major shift by making digital technology the primary tool for delivering instruction. This has fundamentally changed the way teachers are using ICT during the pandemic and raised the importance of the skills they need to use ICT for everyday instruction.

The use of technology in teaching not only relies on the development of digital skills of qualified and knowledgeable professionals but also on the availability of adequate infrastructure and resources. In this respect, TALIS 2018 showed that, prior to the pandemic, one out of three teachers in primary and upper secondary education considered that investment in ICT should be a spending priority (Table 5.29). This could indicate a need for additional resources (Table 1.3). This assessment was also confirmed by principals, with around one out of four principals in primary education and upper secondary education stating that the quality of instruction was hindered in their school by a shortage or inadequacy of digital technology for instruction or insufficient Internet access (Table 5.28).

Right now, there is little question that we are entering a period where the pedagogical use of technology will be paramount. In this process, it will be important keep in mind that technology should be seen as a tool to improve student learning rather than an end in itself. Effective allocation of resources, and appropriate training are needed to reinforce this and prioritise the pedagogical goal of implementing technology in school settings. Teachers are also the key source for information in understanding and detecting when ICT becomes a bridge to knowledge or when it creates increased social learning gaps between students.

Policy makers must be receptive to exploring innovative forms of ICT that are particularly tailored to advance students’ learning. For example, the use of tools such as robots, virtual reality, augmented reality and simulators allows teachers to develop students’ vocational skills while also fostering their digital and soft skills. These technologies are likely to become more common in VET in the years to come, as they have advantages in terms of flexibility, cost and safety (OECD, 2021[16]).5

In terms of resources, it is important to acknowledge that not all contexts, schools or students have equal access to the required technology for instruction and can devise strategies to address this issue. Thus, it is important to have a broad view of the different technologies (not only digital) that can facilitate learning (e.g. also tapping into the potential of radio and TV/video). In terms of training, approaches should reflect how technology could be used to amplify great teaching and empower teachers to become better instructors. To build teachers’ competencies in using technology in the classroom, it would be important for professional learning to move beyond just helping teachers acquire the tools and skills to master certain technological competencies to working collaboratively to find ways to tailor technology to specific subjects and specific activities within those subjects.

Previous TALIS 2018 data revealed an important generational divide between novice and experienced teachers in their sense of preparedness to use ICT in their classrooms (OECD, 2019[4]). Rather than being an obstacle, this situation could transform into an opportunity by having teachers more knowledgeable in using technology mentor teachers who have more experience in teaching but maybe less knowledge in ICT. Schools are unique intergenerational hubs, and the increased reliance on digital tools in teaching brought about by the COVID pandemic offers a unique opportunity for individuals of different generations to learn from one another and collaborate in tackling these challenges. Moreover, this peer mentoring could go beyond just relations between teachers by also incorporating students into the discussion. For this type of collaboration to work, it is crucial to adopt a perspective of schools as learning organisations that models learning within a school as an important aspect of promoting the continuous improvement of teachers under the joint leadership of both the principal and the teachers (Kools and Stoll, 2016[17]).

The last stage of the teacher career pathway concerns building and improving working conditions to retain effective teachers. Teaching professionals’ routines were disturbed, disrupted and reconfigured nearly overnight due to the school closures and remote learning imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a very short period of time, teachers have had to, among other crucial tasks, adapt classes from a physical to a virtual setting, work extra hours and provide emotional support for students. However, one potential positive aspect of the crisis is that teachers may have gained more recognition for the fundamental and irreplaceable work they do. It is important that this recognition be transformed into concrete actions to boost the overall prestige of the teaching profession. According to pre-pandemic results from TALIS 2018, only around one out of three teachers in both primary and upper secondary education considered that they are valued by society (Table 2.18) (Table 1.4).

Despite the low share of teachers reporting they feel valued by society, teachers are highly satisfied with their work. In 2018, more than 90% of teachers in both primary and upper secondary education stated that they are satisfied with their working conditions and profession (Table 6.16) (Table 1.4). However, in both primary and upper secondary education, only around 40% of teachers stated that they are satisfied with their salaries, and 60% of teachers reported that they are satisfied with their contractual arrangements (Table 6.19). Regression results showed that the levels of satisfaction with the terms of employment have a significant association with intentions to leave teaching in the next five years. In three-quarters of the countries and economies taking part in the TALIS 2018 primary education and upper secondary education surveys, teachers satisfied with their terms of employment were less likely to state they would like to leave teaching within the next five years (Tables 6.39 and 6.40).6 The results point to the need to provide good working environments and conditions for teachers, beyond the financial rewards.

Behind the satisfaction with terms of employment, total working hours play a predominant role, since they are a significant predictor of satisfaction for almost all countries and economies in both primary and upper secondary education. The higher the number of working hours reported by teachers, the less likely they are to state that they are satisfied with the terms of their employment (Tables 6.22 and 6.23).

Although the share of teachers reporting satisfaction with their work and profession is high, that does not mean they are exempt from stress. Indeed, in both primary and upper secondary education, more than 15% of teachers consider that they experience stress a lot in their work (Table 6.24) (Table 1.4). Working hours, especially the hours devoted to marking, is the variable showing a significant association with stress in the majority of countries and economies in both primary and upper secondary education (Tables 6.27 and 6.28). Stress levels is the indicator showing a significant association with the intention to leave teaching within the next five years in most countries and economies in both primary and upper secondary education, even if this relationship is controlled by satisfaction with salaries, terms of employment and collaboration (Tables 6.39 and 6.40).

The sources of stress tend to vary significantly across levels, as reported by teachers. In primary education, “having too much administrative work”, “being held responsible for students' achievement”, “addressing parent or guardian concerns” and “keeping up with changing requirements from local, municipal/regional, state or national/federal authorities” were the sources of stress that concentrated the largest share of teachers. In upper secondary education, the sources of stress reported by the largest share of teachers were “being held responsible for students' achievement”, “having too much marking” and “having too much administrative work”. Compared to lower secondary education, a higher share of teachers in primary education reported “having too much administrative work”, “being held responsible for students’ achievement” and “modifying lessons for students with special needs” as sources of stress. A higher share of teachers in upper secondary education reported “maintaining classroom discipline” and “addressing parent or guardian concerns” as sources of stress than in lower secondary education (Tables 6.29 and 6.30).

The results on sources of stress seem to suggest that workload is an important factor for the overall well-being of teachers. Some of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from countries and economies could indirectly or directly address the issues, such as diminishing class sizes (Denmark, Spain), increasing the number of teachers in schools (Portugal, Spain, Turkey) and increasing teachers’ salaries (Slovenia)7 (OECD, 2021[2]). A particular case of interest is Japan, where human resources were reinforced for schools that were dividing classes for staggered attendance. Additional teachers enabled multiple smaller classes to run among students in the final years of primary and lower secondary education so they could receive a sufficient amount of in-person teaching (for more details see Chapter 6, Box 6.1).

Since one of the main sources of work stress reported by teachers for both levels is working hours, that issue deserves scrutiny. Teachers balance multiple responsibilities across a regular school day, ranging from instruction to planning, marking, training, counselling, etc. A crucial strategy to create balance in teachers’ work is to allow support staff to take on some of teachers’ non-essential tasks. Table A B.5 in Annex B shows that countries and economies differ considerably in the allocation of support staff across schools. A staffing strategy based on identifying problems and allocating resources per school could be an effective mechanism for reducing teacher workload and associated stress.

In terms of the hours devoted to marking, this is a crucial task for teaching, and delegating this type of task could take teachers down a slippery slope towards deprofessionalisation. Indeed, the recent TALIS-PISA link report (OECD, 2021[18]) shows that time spent on marking is positively associated with students’ performance. The processes explaining the relation between marking and student achievement are complex and possibly driven by teachers’ ability to provide good and pertinent feedback. Indeed these might reflect stronger academic pressure and emphasis on assessment in high-performing schools, without necessarily indicating a causal impact from assessment time to student performance. However, moving beyond this association, the results also showed that marking is an important stressor for teachers. One alternative could be to make the marking process more efficient by, for example, by automating the mechanical summative part of the evaluation through technology so that teachers can focus on the formative and feedback-driven side of the assessment.

An important consideration when examining the well-being of teachers is that there appears to be a gender divide. Among both primary and teachers in upper secondary, a higher share of female teachers than male teachers expressed experiencing a lot of stress in their work and wanting to leave teaching within the next five years for the larger share of countries and economies (Tables 6.25, 6.26, 6.35 and 6.36). In addition, a lower share of female teachers than male teachers stated that they feel valued in society, although this share is higher in upper secondary education (Tables 2.19 and 2.20). More in-depth analyses are warranted to have a better understanding of why female teachers feel more stress than their male colleagues. This might be attributed to differences in working conditions, but also to factors outside of work, such as greater demands on the home and parenting fronts for some female teachers compared to their male colleagues. Since female teachers constitute the majority of the workforce at every level of education, it is crucial to identify which of the female workers are showing symptoms of ill-being.

Programmes at ISCED level 1 (primary education) are typically designed to provide students with fundamental skills in reading, writing and mathematics (i.e. literacy and numeracy) and to establish a solid foundation for learning and understanding core areas of knowledge, personal and social development in preparation for lower secondary education. They focus on learning at a basic level of complexity with little, if any, specialisation. Educational activities in primary education (particularly in the early grades) are frequently organised around units, projects or broad learning areas, often with an integrated approach rather than providing instruction in specific subjects (OECD, 2015[19]). Beyond the more established “academic” objectives, primary education also has an important role to play to help students build foundations for learning. It does so by teaching basic knowledge and skills, as well as a wide range of social and emotional skills including “learning to learn” (i.e. acquisition of the skills to create the condition for students to structure their own learning procedures) and collaboration and co-operation with other students. A total of 15 countries and economies took part in the TALIS 2018 survey for primary education, from which data are reported for only 13 (see Note 3 for details).

The usual entry age for primary education is between five and seven and it has a typical duration of six years. For the countries and economies that participated in the TALIS primary education study, the entry age is usually six (see Table A B.3). As children may be less independent at these young ages, the role of teachers and the relationship they have with students and parents or caregivers might be different from the role teachers usually play in lower or upper secondary education. In many countries and economies, primary school teachers are often subject generalists who teach all subjects to their students and, thus, might be required to be knowledgeable about the content and pedagogy for subjects as diverse as literacy, the sciences and the arts. The kind of teaching required in primary schools is different from that in other levels of education, and hence the teaching and assessment practices employed might also be different from those at other levels. In addition, the pandemic might have introduced extra challenges for teachers in primary education as subject generalists, given that they need to find digital pedagogical solutions across a broader range of fields than specialist teachers.

The next section presents an overview of recommendations based on the findings that were considered the main and most distinctive for primary education. In summary, these are:

  • fostering a gender-diverse teaching workforce

  • creating opportunities for training in facilitating transitions

  • promoting teachers’ participation in induction and mentoring activities

  • catering to students with special needs

  • strengthening teachers’ resilience and efficiency for classroom management.

Linking back to the first stage of the teacher career pathway concerning attracting teachers, the gender composition of the teaching workforce has long been a topic of concern in education policy. From a labour-integration perspective, teaching has been a venue for women to integrate into the workforce (OECD, 2018[20]). Regarding pedagogical processes themselves, evidence shows that the socio-demographic composition of the teaching workforce may have an impact on development of role models for students (OECD, 2020[21]). In particular, it can contribute to promoting positive gender identities and challenging gender stereotypes (Brussino, forthcoming[12]). Recent conversations have advocated for more involvement of male teachers in the profession to create a wider spectrum of role models for students. This situation seems to be particularly acute in primary education, as the proportion of female teachers is significantly higher than in other levels.

Compared to higher levels of education, we find the largest share of female teachers in primary education (OECD, 2020[21]). TALIS 2018 data shows that female teachers represent over three-quarters of the primary teaching workforce (TALIS average of 78% in primary education, compared to 63% in lower secondary education). In 6 out of 13 countries and economies with available data, over 80% of teachers in primary education are female (Table 2.9). The data analysed in this volume show that, in the majority of countries and economies (8 out of 13), the share of female teachers is similar among novice teachers and experienced teachers. This suggests that no strong changes in the gender composition have taken place in recent years in most of these contexts (Table 2.10).

Social and historical factors help to explain this phenomenon, including the perceived traditional roles of women in society, inequities in women’s access to education and labour markets, as well as persistent wage gaps compared to men in many sectors. These factors together have traditionally encouraged women to search for positions as teachers (Elacqua et al., 2017[22]). Despite this, women are increasingly finding other careers open to them, and their occupational aspirations are changing. Data from THE Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 show that the career aspirations of girls have changed between 2000 and 2018. While the teaching profession remains highly attractive, it is no longer the most cited occupation by 15-year-old girls. It has been replaced by a preference to enter the medical profession (Schleicher, 2020[23]).

Likewise, it has been argued that, in some contexts, teachers’ gender may have an association with students’ attitudes towards learning and also with their career aspirations, where teachers can have an influence on the motivations and performances of same-gender students (Beilock et al., 2010[24]; Lim and Meer, 2017[25]; OECD, 2021[18]; OECD, 2019[4]). TALIS data have been analysed together with PISA data on the performance of 15-year-old boys and girls in reading, mathematics and science (OECD, 2021[18]). These analyses have shown that, in some countries and economies, teachers may influence the academic performance of same-gender students by acting as role models. Student performance tends to change in favour of girls as the share of female teachers increases in the school, while boys’ performance in all subjects improves compared to that of girls when the share of male teachers increases (OECD, 2021[18]).

These facts show the relevance for policy makers to address gender composition in primary education. In particular, depending on the type of job targeted, it may be helpful to consider designing recruitment campaigns that are not gender blind, emphasising that men can achieve professional growth as teachers and women as school leaders (OECD, 2019[4]).

Interestingly, primary education is the sole level that has reached a more balanced gender distribution when it comes to principals’ positions, as 53% are female (16 percentage points higher than in lower secondary education) (Table 2.12). However, this might just be a reflection of the gender composition of the teaching workforce at the primary level. Findings have demonstrated that school leaders are recruited among teachers. As the proportion of female teachers is higher in primary education than in lower secondary education, it stands to reason that the proportion of school leaders is higher in primary than in lower secondary education. While this shows that strong inequities remain in the career progression of women in primary education, it does suggest that this education level may have started to transition into a more gender-balanced workforce. Thus, countries and economies should also engage in research to better understand the factors underlying differential recruitment of male and female candidates into teaching. Research on the differential progression of male and female teachers towards leadership roles is also warranted, as well as policies to overcome any barriers identified to career progression for female teachers.

In terms of child development, primary education represents the first step to more structured forms of schooling with a greater emphasis on academic responsibility (Shuey et al., 2019[26]). Indeed, in looking at the definitions set out in Education at Glance 2017: OECD Indicators (OECD, 2017[27]), pre-primary education (ISCED 0) could be defined as aiming to develop the cognitive, physical and socio-emotional skills necessary for participation in school and society, while primary education is defined as aiming to provide a sound basic education in reading, writing and mathematics and a basic understanding of some other subjects.

As a result, strategies predominant in pre-primary education, such as the use of play, are typically discontinued or reduced in primary education (OECD, 2017[28]). However, some of the aspects embedded in play-based pedagogies, such as effective balances between teacher-centred and student-centred activities and warm and responsive staff-child interactions, are as pertinent for primary education as they are for pre-primary education. In broader terms, facilitating transitions from pre-primary to primary education has become a crucial consideration for the primary education level, as demonstrated by growing initiatives worldwide seeking to align the curriculum between these two levels (Shuey et al., 2019[26]). This alignment has implications for the children’s long-term learning and well-being outcomes. Transitions from pre-primary education are a crucial milestone for students, as primary education marks the beginning of formal classroom learning, which is different in many respects from the learning environment of students in early childhood education. The role played by teachers during this transition transcends academic learning and extends to the social and emotional learning of young students.

In relation to the next stage of the teacher career pathway, developing teachers’ skills, the alignment or continuation of strategies between pre-primary and primary education can be often interrupted by the training received by teachers in primary education (Shuey et al., 2019[26]). TALIS is able to capture these forms of training by asking teachers whether they received training and how well prepared they feel in play-based learning and facilitating transitions (Elacqua et al., 2017[22]).

TALIS results highlight the need for education systems to improve both pre-service and in-service training opportunities on facilitating transitions and play-based learning. Less than half of the teaching workforce (46%) in primary education reported that they had received formal training in facilitating transitions from early childhood education to primary education, and an even lower share (38%) reported that they feel well prepared in this aspect (Table 3.10). Of all the areas surveyed, training in transitions was one of only two areas (along with training in teaching in multicultural and multilingual environments) where less than half of teachers reported receiving training. In contrast, more than 90% of teachers reported receiving training in their subject content and/or pedagogy, and more than 70% reported receiving training in teaching in mixed-ability settings and teaching cross-curricular skills (Table 3.7). Training in play-based learning is somewhat more prevalent, as 67% of teachers on average across the participating countries and economies reported receiving training in this area, although a smaller share (57%) reported feeling well prepared in this area (Table 3.10). The share of teachers reporting training in this area is similar to the share of teachers who reported receiving training in the use of ICT for teaching (Table 3.7).

Further analyses showed that the implementation of cognitive stimulation practices (instructional activities that require students to evaluate, integrate and apply knowledge within the context of problem solving) was more frequent among the share of teachers that had training in facilitating playing than among those who did not. The results might indicate that training in this area might also provide teachers with elements promoting activities for the cognitive stimulation of the children. This link makes sense, as both cognitive practices and play-based training share a student-centred approach (Echazarra et al., 2016[29]). The results could also reflect teachers’ more general pedagogical knowledge and selecting from among a range of pedagogic approaches, of which play-based learning would be one strategy (Table 3.32).

As next steps, policy makers need to assess what role primary education should play in regard to the continuous development of children. General training in transitions may have a strong focus in trying to help children to assimilate to the more formal structure of school, while a focus on introducing play in primary education can ease the children’s adaptation. Although TALIS does not have further information on the type of content provided in the training for transition, just the low share of teachers who have taken part in these activities demonstrates a need to introduce content on facilitating transitions and play-based learning in formal training and competency frameworks. Policy makers, school leaders and teachers also need to reflect on the effectiveness of existing training modules on this topic so that teachers build the necessary skills in this area. While pre-service learning in this area is essential for new teaching candidates, the skill set of the current workforce in these areas should be improved through in-service training. Training opportunities could include collaborative spaces and guidance on collaboration between teachers and parents, learning modules on forming meaningful relationships with students and pedagogical guidance on play materials (Nilsen, 2021[30]; Skouteris, Watson and Lum, 2012[31]). Targeted support could be offered to teachers, especially those teaching in the early grades of primary education. Collaborative spaces, such as professional learning communities, could benefit teachers who teach the youngest age groups.

Teachers in primary education’ participation in induction activities is limited. On average across the participating countries and economies, about 42% of teachers took part in induction during their first employment, 34% of teachers took part in induction activities at their current school, whereas 41% did not participate in any induction activities (Table 4.4). Moreover, TALIS data show that, in primary education, novice teachers are more exposed to induction activities in their current school than experienced teachers in 10 of 13 countries and economies (Table 4.5). Compared to lower secondary education, teachers’ participation in induction programmes in primary education is lower by 3 percentage points, on average across the 13 countries and economies with available and comparable data for these two levels (Table 4.4).

Although it could be expected that induction programmes be particularly targeted to novice teachers, they can also be positive for experienced teachers who can benefit from these programmes when starting a position in a new school. This is the case among teachers in primary education, as TALIS 2018 data suggest that teachers have spent only half of their work experience in the school where they are currently employed (8 years out of 16) (Table 2.5). While the high mobility of teachers is due to systematic teacher rotations in some countries and economies (e.g. Japan), in others, teacher mobility may depend on other factors, including working conditions. Research suggests that when those conditions include good administrative support and good peer collaboration, teacher retention in schools is higher (Allensworth, Ponisciak and Mazzeo, 2009[32]).

Regarding the type of induction activities teachers engage in, the largest share of teachers (over 70%) declared engaging in training based on courses/seminars attended in person, planned meetings with their principal and/or experienced teachers and team-teaching with experienced teachers. Regarding the latter, a significantly higher share of teachers in primary education engage in team-teaching with experienced teachers in primary education than in lower secondary education (56% in primary education compared to 49% in lower secondary), which may suggest a particular emphasis on collaboration in primary education. In addition, further analyses are warranted to determine induction activities that may be more suitable for novice teachers or for experienced teachers starting in a new school (Table 4.7). Thus, induction may help both novice and experienced teachers to get support, become familiar with the school’s working environment and better collaborate with their colleagues.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for many there is no longer a physical setting where teachers new to the profession or the school have the chance to adapt and get used to their new settings. Hybrid instruction will require strong flexibility and innovation for teacher interaction, collaboration and learning in their new jobs (OECD, 2020[33]). Much attention should be focused on professionals who have started a new position in recent years, as novice teachers are particularly at risk of burnout and attrition. The silver lining shown by TALIS 2018 data is that teachers in primary education already engage in such forms of exchange, as at least a quarter of teachers in primary education reported engaging in online courses and seminars (29%) and online activities (25%) (Table 4.7). Education systems are encouraged to further explore these technological opportunities to promote induction and training among the teacher population.

Policies promoting the inclusion of students with special needs have helped increase the presence of children with special needs in mainstream schools in several countries and economies (OECD, 2019[4]). Across countries and economies, 27% of teachers in primary education work in schools with at least 10% of students with special needs. In some education systems, more than 50% of teachers work in schools with at least 10% of students with special needs (Table 2.24).8

Prior TALIS 2018 analysis conducted with trend data in lower secondary education suggest that the reported increase of students with special needs has influenced the need for staff with different sets of skills and training in some of the participating countries and economies (OECD, 2019[8]). Regarding primary education, TALIS 2018 data show that a third of principals reported that shortages of teachers with competence in teaching students with special needs hinder the school’s capacity to provide quality instruction (34%) (Table 5.27). Likewise, on average, more than half (57%) of teachers in primary education consider supporting students with special needs a high spending priority (Table 5.29). This is a significantly less relevant topic for teachers in lower secondary education (a difference of 10 percentage points) (Table 5.29).

While countries and economies may differ in how and when special needs are diagnosed, teachers at lower levels of education are often more likely to report higher proportions of students with special needs in their classrooms (OECD, 2014[34]). Plausible causes include the following:

  • In primary schools, there is usually only one generalist teacher per class who is able to spend more time with each student and thus able to detect learning impediments, while these diagnoses are harder to conduct at higher levels because there are multiple subject teachers, each spending less time with particular students.

  • By the time students get to higher education levels they have taken different pathways that are more adapted to their skills and interests.

  • Upper secondary education is non-compulsory in several countries, and children with special needs often have left the “traditional” pathways by the time they reach this level.

  • By the time students have reached lower or upper secondary education, they have acquired coping strategies to manage their special needs, which can make them less visible in some cases.

However, this is a pressing issue, as TALIS 2018 findings show that 37% of teachers in primary education reported that modifying lessons for students with special needs is a source of stress, compared to 29% of teachers in lower secondary education (Table 6.30). Not surprisingly, this is a also pressing issue for professional development. Furthermore, 28% of teachers in primary education reported teaching students with special needs as an area of high need for professional development, compared to 22% of teachers in lower secondary education. All these elements point to the fact that catering to students with special needs is an issue of particular relevance for primary education (Table 4.24).

While this shows the strong pressure that special needs education poses on primary education across countries and economies, it also calls for actions that focus on equipping teachers to provide adequate support to students with special needs. This is especially true when facing situations that require social distancing, as with the COVID-19 pandemic. In situations where school attendance may be limited, it is of great importance to pay special attention to children with special needs. Education services may need to co-ordinate with other health and social services to provide holistic support and to increase effective resource allocations (OECD, 2020[33]).

A key challenge encountered by teachers in primary education is managing classroom behaviour and disciplinary issues. Teachers spend a great deal of time and effort on behaviour management, given the young student age group they teach. This not only affects the time that teachers spend on teaching and learning, but also has a bearing on teachers’ stress levels.

Education systems could support teachers to develop the necessary skills and efficiency in order to give students at the primary level a strong foundational learning experience as well as build a professional workforce over the years. Training in classroom management before entering teaching, as well as in the beginning years through in-service support such as induction, can help teachers improve their skills in this area and manage their stress in the long run (Dicke et al., 2015[35]).

TALIS 2018 data show that teachers in primary education face a range of issues related to classroom management and student discipline. Generally they spend more time engaging with students to keep order in the classroom (16% of lesson time, on average) than their lower secondary peers (14% of lesson time, on average) (Table 3.26), and about 41% of teachers in primary education reported that maintaining classroom discipline is a source of stress (Table 6.30). Box 1.1 shows how the time spent in keeping order in the classroom diminishes in higher levels of education.

Prior TALIS analysis conducted in lower secondary education showed that self-efficacy in instruction is strong predictor of time spent on keeping order in the classroom. The more teachers believe in their classroom management capabilities, the less class time they spend on keeping order (OECD, 2019[4]). One effective manner to build teachers’ sense of confidence is through school support and training, such as mentoring. However, data show that, on average across countries and economies, only 12% of teachers in primary education reported having an assigned mentor and 13% reported that they are a mentor to one or more teachers (Table 4.8). While the proportion is higher among novice teachers, as expected, on average only about one-quarter of them have an assigned mentor (26%) (Table 4.9). Clinical experiences, where teachers can explore such strategies, could also facilitate their acquisition of related skills (Cheng, Cheng and Tang, 2010[36]). Teachers should be trained in the use of these practices, be aware of their importance, feel able to use them and enjoy the conditions to actually implement them. Overall, the course of action should be strengthening policies to help teachers better manage and cope with classroom management, such as providing in-service and continuous training on classroom management, collaboration and mentoring to learn from experiences of other teachers.

Programmes at ISCED level 3 (upper secondary education) are typically designed to complete secondary education in preparation for tertiary education or to provide skills relevant to employment (or both). Instruction at this level is more often organised along subject-matter lines than at lower levels of education. The programmes are more differentiated, with an increased range of options and streams available. Teachers are often highly qualified in the subjects they teach, particularly in the higher grades (OECD, 2015[37]). In TALIS 2018, 11 countries and economies participated in the upper secondary module of the survey (i.e. teachers and principals working at the upper secondary level completed the survey).

The typical age at which students enter in upper secondary education is 14 to 16, which implies that teachers at this level interact and manage students of a higher age group, who are at the peak of their teenage years. Vocational education and training constitutes an important element in upper secondary education, as it plays an significant role in ensuring alignment between education and work (OECD, 2020[21]). From the countries and economies participating in the upper secondary education survey, almost 16% of teachers reported teaching practical and vocational skills the year of the survey (Table 3.24). Due to the practical orientation of these programmes, VET courses were particularly affected by the school closures of 2020, although many systems were able to find partial solutions through the use of digital tools (OECD, 2021[9]).

This section provides a list of recommendations based on the main findings. In particular, it identifies the following opportunities and challenges:

  • harnessing the potential of an experienced workforce

  • enhancing the knowledge and skills profile of teachers

  • supporting teaching professionalism in vocational education

  • promoting teacher collaboration and collegial relationships.

One of the key assets of upper secondary education systems highlighted by TALIS is the presence of a highly experienced teaching workforce. Teachers at this level have, on average, a total of 16 years of experience as a teacher. Having an experienced workforce in upper secondary education presents a great opportunity, as it reflects the presence of more trained and skilled teachers at this level, as well as extensive opportunities for peer support to new teachers from their more experienced colleagues. Another positive aspect of this experienced workforce is that teachers at this level have spent more time developing their professional practices. However, it also implies that experienced teachers need to be well supported with up-to-date skills so that they continue to innovate and maintain their readiness to the new demands of teaching roles (Table 2.5). The advantages of having an experienced workforce can be enhanced when much of that experience is concentrated at the same school, through elements such as increased collegiality and opportunities for peer collaboration and long-term student-teacher relations (Allensworth, Ponisciak and Mazzeo, 2009[32]).

The teaching workforce in upper secondary education also stands out as one that is more diverse in terms of experience in other occupations. On average across the 11 participating countries and economies in upper secondary education, teachers reported two years of experience in other education roles and four years of experience in non-education roles (Table 2.5). Having experience and skills outside of their teaching roles makes these professionals more dynamic, with the potential to bring these diverse skills into their classrooms, ultimately benefitting students’ academic and holistic learning.

School principals could tap the collective non-teaching work experience of the teacher workforce by drawing on these as part of career counselling and orientation activities, for example by having them describe their previous jobs to students as part of career counselling workshops and asking them to reach out to former colleagues to come and speak about their job in orientation sessions.

Harnessing the potential of the experience of teachers could also be more systematically used as part of induction or mentoring programmes, observation and feedback sessions, sharing of lessons plans and preparation of collaborative professional development activities responding to school needs. Conversely, school principals could also play a role in updating the skills of these experienced teachers by organising workshops with expert teachers in a particular area, or asking novice teachers to report on the state of the art in areas that have evolved in recent years.

Maintaining and expanding the experience of teachers might be of particular relevance for VET programmes, as expertise in concrete areas of the labour market is an asset for these types of courses. Employing industry professionals can ease VET teacher shortages. As such professionals generally lack the required teaching qualifications and pedagogical skills, providing flexible pathways for qualification, training and recruitment can ease their entry into teaching. For example, if necessary, countries and economies may relax qualification requirements for industry professionals or for graduates from higher education specialising in the relevant subjects and provide alternative routes to obtaining teaching qualifications (OECD, 2021[9]).

In-service professional development and appraisals should aim to improve the knowledge and expertise of teachers, especially those with lower educational qualifications. Teachers in upper secondary education have typically completed a master’s degree or equivalent (52%) or a bachelor’s degree or equivalent (42%) (Table 3.2). However, there is still a small part of the teaching workforce whose qualifications are below a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

On average, a lower share of teachers in upper secondary education had initial teacher training in the core areas (content, pedagogy and classroom practice) than their colleagues in lower secondary education (75% in upper secondary, compared to 83% in lower secondary) (Table 3.14). The difference could be explained by the fact that the pool of professionals in upper secondary comes from a more diverse background than in lower levels of secondary education. But regardless, initial and continuous training could focus on core areas to enhance the content base of teachers.

TALIS findings show that the average number of years of teaching experience is lower among teachers working in schools where vocational education programmes are taught than among those in schools where only general academic programmes exist, although by a very slight margin (16 years on average for teachers working in VET schools compared to 16.6 years for teachers working in non-VET schools). While teachers in VET programmes bring diverse experience from non-education roles and skills-oriented expertise from industry, it is essential to support these teachers in their pedagogical roles to ensure that they are able to transfer essential skills to students (Table 2.7).

VET programmes attract teachers with prior experience from a diverse set of industries and skills. This is also reflected in TALIS findings that show that a lower share of teachers in VET schools chose teaching as their first choice of career (62%) than did teachers in other schools (70%). It is therefore desirable to build an experienced workforce within the VET sector in upper secondary education, as well as to aim for high levels of satisfaction and well-being for these teachers so that they choose to stay in the profession (Table 2.15).

Teachers in upper secondary have the crucial role of ensuring in-depth student learning in different subjects. The highly rigorous demands of teachers require them to not only be pedagogical experts but also have a good command of the content they teach so that they can deliver high-quality instruction, including the use of cognitive activation practices in complex content areas (Echazarra et al., 2016[29]). TALIS findings indicate that training in the subjects that teachers teach ranges from 78-83% in the core subjects of reading, writing and literature, mathematics, science and social science. This implies that about one-fifth of teachers were not formally trained in the subjects they teach (Table 3.20). This points to an important need for education systems to offer learning opportunities for teachers to receive training for the subjects they teach and to link their pedagogical skills to the specific subjects they teach (Shulman, 1986[38]). In addition, it is important to examine systems of teacher allocation. In some contexts, understaffing situations can lead to allocating teachers to teach subjects for which they do not have appropriate training. These instances and the causes behind them should be explored more deeply and explained.

It is important to support VET teachers in their instructional and pedagogical roles. One way that TALIS examines the quality of teacher preparation is to check how comprehensive their training was (i.e. whether it included the core areas of preparation). Seventy-two percent of teachers who teach in a VET school said that their initial training included all the areas of content, pedagogy and classroom practice compared to 79% of teachers who reported receiving this training in schools not offering a VET programme (Table 3.16). As mentioned in the prior section, the diverse background of teachers in upper secondary education could explain this situation.

Another relevant finding concerns the frequency of implementing pedagogical practices able to stimulate students cognitively (instructional activities that require students to evaluate, integrate and apply knowledge within the context of problem solving). For example, on average, a larger share of VET teachers than non-VET teachers reported that they always or frequently ask students to decide on their own procedures for solving complex tasks (52% of VET teachers reported this compared to 45% of non-VET teachers) and have students work in small groups to come up with a joint solution to a problem or task (58% of VET teachers reported this compared to 53% of non-VET teachers) (Table 3.33). The more practically oriented background of VET teachers could explain this small gap and, more importantly, they possess a set of skills that could be shared and disseminated among their non-VET colleagues.

Initial teacher education and training programmes should develop the pedagogical skills of future VET teachers, along with their basic, digital and soft skills and the vocational skills and knowledge needed by the labour market (OECD, 2021, p. 12[16]). Education systems could introduce opportunities for academic and VET teachers to engage in joint activities and collaborate on peer feedback and knowledge sharing so that all teachers can reap the benefits of an experienced teaching workforce. In addition, to make such participation more effective, VET teachers’ training needs need to be assessed so that relevant, customised and engaging professional development can be provided. Participation can be increased by fostering collaboration between VET stakeholders, including VET institutions, teacher and school networks, local companies, and universities and other associations. Finally, offering work-based learning opportunities in industry as part of initial training can be particularly helpful for those with no industry background (OECD, 2021, p. 12[16]).

To sustain, support and promote the use of innovative pedagogical methods in VET, educational systems should also provide strategic guidance and institutional support to VET teachers. This could include guidance on how to choose effective teaching methods, combined with improving their access to digital devices, high-tech equipment and technical support. Countries and economies can also promote innovation in VET by establishing partnerships between the VET sector and industry to improve the procurement of materials and equipment tailored to teaching and learning needs (OECD, 2021, p. 12[16]). Finally, mentorship and professional network opportunities could be viable mechanisms through which VET teachers could share their knowledge and expertise with non-VET teachers.

TALIS data shows that teachers’ professional collaboration, such as teaching jointly in teams, collaborative professional learning, observing colleagues and providing feedback could be further encouraged at the upper secondary education level. There is less incidence of teachers engaging in collaborative activities in upper secondary education than at the lower secondary level (Table 5.22). These findings suggest that teachers in upper secondary education may be missing important opportunities to benefit from teacher collaboration, such as support from their colleagues while facing instructional challenges (Vescio, Ross and Adams, 2008[39]).

Therefore, education systems could create structures and opportunities in upper secondary schools that could kick-start collaborative interactions between teachers (Goddard, Goddard and Tschannen-Moran, 2007[40]). Preliminary support in the form of opportunities to collaborate on curriculum, instruction and professional development can be a way for teachers to experience the benefits and support working in a collaborative working environment, which could further promote voluntary engagements with their colleagues. Steps to increase teacher collaboration at the upper secondary level could include, in particular, activities that may have the greatest benefits for teachers’ instructional improvement, innovation, student achievement and a sense of collective support based on research evidence (Darling-Hammond, Hyler and Gardner, 2017[41]). Box 1.2 shows that the percentage of teachers engaging in professional collaborative learning reduces as the level of education increases.

The limitations of teacher collaboration at the upper secondary level could be explained by the organisational structures of schools (such as division into subject tracks, general and vocational education tracks), which may lead teachers to work more independently and in isolation. It might also be because teachers in upper secondary tend to be more experienced than teachers in primary education and feel they have less need to collaborate with their colleagues. Finally, it can respond to a specific “school culture” (de Jong, Meirink and Admiraal, 2019[42]) fostered by the goals of this educational level or even the training of teachers, in the sense that a generalist background (rather than subject-specific as in higher levels of education) might facilitate co-operation among teachers.

Policies to promote teacher collaboration should be grounded in research understanding the conditions that schools and teachers need to purposefully collaborate. For example, do teachers in upper secondary education have time and interaction spaces outside their instructional duties to exchange ideas with their colleagues and obtain peer-to-peer support? In order to improve teacher collaboration, there is a need to observe and document existing forms of collaboration between teachers at the upper secondary level.

The benefits that teachers perceive and derive from collaborating with their colleagues can ultimately encourage them to engage voluntarily in collaborative exchanges and build a community of practice in their collegial circles. Research indicates that the relevance of particular forms of collaboration for teachers depends on their learning needs (de Jong, Meirink and Admiraal, 2019[42]). Therefore, identifying the improvement needs for teachers at the upper secondary level can be a starting point to identify what forms of collaboration education systems need to promote. Having a consultation with teachers and extracting lessons in a post-pandemic context may be a way to identify needs and boost new forms of collaboration for teachers in upper secondary.


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← 1. This data was collected and processed by the OECD based on the Survey on Joint National Responses to COVID-19 School Closures, a collaborative effort conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the OECD. Designed for government officials responsible for education, the survey collected information on national or regional education responses to school closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. All OECD countries answered the survey, with the exception of Greece and Switzerland. The data were collected between January and February 2021.

← 2. For the detailed findings in lower secondary education for all of these 48 countries and economies, see TALIS 2018 Results (Volume I): Teachers and School Leaders as Lifelong Learners (OECD, 2019[4]) and TALIS 2018 Results (Volume II): Teachers and School Leaders as Valued Professionals (OECD, 2020[3]).

← 3. The countries and economies that participated in the primary education option are Australia, Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (Argentina, henceforth CABA [Argentina]), Chinese Taipei, England (United Kingdom), Denmark, the Flemish Community of Belgium, France, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam. The data from Australia and the Netherlands are not reported, counted or included in the average of primary education since they were not adjudicated (see details in Annex A). The countries and economies that participated in the upper secondary education option are Alberta (Canada), Brazil, Chinese Taipei, Croatia, Denmark, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Viet Nam. Chinese Taipei participated in both levels (primary and upper secondary education). Its data was included in the tables and adds to the averages. However, it is not reported in the text or charts due to OECD regulations and agreements with Chinese Taipei.

← 4. Note that substitute, emergency or occasional teachers were not included in the TALIS 2018 sampling, as they were deemed an out-of-scope population. It stands to reason that levels of job security of these teachers may differ from those of regular teachers reported by TALIS. Thus, caution is warranted if using these results to provide an overall assessment of the job security of the teaching workforce. For more information on the criteria of the in-scope teacher population, please see Annex A.

← 5. For concrete examples on the use of robots, augmented reality and virtual reality in VET education, see OECD (2021[16]), Box 4.8.

← 6. On the percentage of teachers intending to leave the teaching profession within the next five years, please note that the percentages might be a direct reflection of the age structure of the teaching profession: the older the teachers, the higher the percentage of teachers expressing that they would like to leave the profession within the next five years.

← 7. In Slovenia there have been minor changes to teacher pay and benefits: 1) in the form of allowances for work in risky situations during the pandemic period when teachers are performing work at the workplace; and 2) in the form of compensation for the use of their own resources when performing work at home in the period of school closures.

← 8. TALIS 2018 considers as special needs students those for whom a special learning need has been formally identified because they are mentally, physically, or emotionally disadvantaged. Often they will be those for whom additional public or private resources (personnel, material or financial) have been provided to support their education.

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