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Schools in Estonia have less favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index value of -0.04 (the average was 0.00). Some 23% of 15-year-olds reported skipping at least one day of school in the two weeks before the PISA 2015 test, compared to the OECD average of 19.7%. Furthermore, students in Estonia were less likely to report that their science teachers adapt their instructions more frequently than the OECD average, with an index of adaptive instruction of -0.17 (the average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]).

The PISA 2015 index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was below the OECD average (-0.06 compared to 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). At 53.2%, the proportion of lower secondary teachers aged 50 or over was among the highest among OECD countries, where the average was 35.4%. In 2017, teachers in Estonia had fewer net teaching hours for general programmes than their OECD peers. Teachers taught 585 hours at primary level and 602 hours at lower secondary level, compared to OECD averages of 784 and 696 hours, respectively (OECD, 2018[2]). According to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools in Estonia have high levels of autonomy over curriculum compared to the OECD average: 95.6% of principals reported that the school has primary autonomy over curriculum; the OECD average was 73.4% (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2016, lower secondary teachers in Estonia earned 91% of the average salary of a full-time, full-year worker with tertiary education, equalling the OECD average (OECD, 2018[2]). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 74.1% of teachers in Estonia said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; this was around the OECD average of 75.6%. Furthermore, 26.4% of teachers felt that the teaching profession was valued in society, compared to an OECD average of 25.8% in 2018 (OECD, 2019[3]).

According to school leaders’ reports in PISA 2015, nearly all school leaders in Estonia conduct self-evaluations of their schools (99.8% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to 93.2% on average), and most undergo external school evaluations (90.8% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to 74.6% on average) (OECD, 2016[1]). However, teacher appraisal levels as reported in the earlier cycle of TALIS 2013 were above average: 89.7% of teachers had reported then having received a teacher appraisal in the previous 12 months, compared to 66.1% on average (OECD, 2014[4]). The share of students enrolled in secondary schools whose principal reported in PISA 2015 that standardised tests are used to make decisions on students’ promotion or retention was 34% compared to an average of 31% (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2017, school autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) in Estonia were higher than the OECD average: 50% of decisions were taken at the school level, compared to an average of 29%.

Annual expenditure per student at primary level in 2015 was USD 6 327, below the OECD average of USD 8 631. At secondary level, Estonia spent USD 6 861 per student, compared to an average of USD 10 010, while at tertiary level (including spending on research and development), Estonia spent USD 12 867 per student, compared to USD 15 656. In 2015, expenditure on primary to tertiary education as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was 4.7%, which was below the OECD average of 5%. The proportion coming from private sources (including household expenditure, expenditure from other private entities and international sources) was lower than the OECD average (13.3% compared to 16.1%). Between 2010 and 2015, the relative proportion of public expenditure on primary to tertiary education decreased by 8.5 percentage points, while the proportion of private expenditure increased by 77.3 percentage points, compared to OECD average changes of -1.3 percentage points and +10.6 percentage points, respectively (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Estonia’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.8).

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Table 8.8. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Estonia (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement

The OECD identified the priority of re-thinking the organisation of school staff as part of the school consolidation process. A challenge exists in attracting new talent for school leadership positions. Teachers expressed concerns about the unaffordability and lack of relevance to professional development courses. This may be due to the programmes considered as most relevant not being offered free of charge as well as a lack of information for providers about teachers’ needs. [2016]

As reported by Estonia, challenges remain regarding improving the attractiveness, salary competitiveness and training for the teaching profession despite recently reported improvements in teachers’ salaries. In particular, challenges in guaranteeing salary funding for non-teaching staff in general education institutions are ongoing. [2013; 2016-17]

Evaluation and assessment

According to OECD evidence, there is a need to ensure an adequate degree of external scrutiny to challenge the findings of school self-evaluation. There is a pressing need to develop and ensure implementation of a regular and more coherent approach to school leader appraisal. External periodic teacher certification needs to be made a requirement for teachers using the existing competency-based career structure as improvement of teacher evaluation is a means of raising education quality. [2016]

A previously reported challenge was the lack of a systematic appraisal mechanism to incentivise and reward the performance of school leaders, while more recent discussions on a model were underway. [2013; 2016-17]


According to OECD evidence, there is a need to clarify responsibilities in the education sector, to adapt education to current and future labour market needs and to improve access to lifelong education. [2016; 2017]

Estonia previously reported the need to work on better defining the responsibilities between the national and local government for secured salary payments. This remains a priority. [2013]


The OECD identified a need to reform tertiary education funding, as well as review the financing of pre-primary provision. Public spending on pre-primary education relative to GDP per capita remained very low by OECD standards, reflected in low salaries for pre-primary education teachers and possibly resulting in lower quality of pre-primary services. This low level of funding is partly explained by the fact that responsibility to provide it lies with the municipalities, which often have minimal resources. [2012; 2016]



1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • Due to a demographic decline in Estonia, re-organising the school networks (koolivõrgu korrastamine) has been a policy priority since 2004/05. During the analytical phase, the school-related commutes of all students were mapped to assess, among others, the proximity of students’ homes to their upper secondary schools; preferences on studying in larger cities or smaller cities; and the influence of the institutional set-up of a school on the type of students it recruits. In 2012, the first state upper secondary school opened (Ministry of Education and Research, 2015[186]). With the amendments to the Basic School and Upper Secondary School Act (2013), the central government intends to establish at least one state-owned upper secondary school in each county by 2020. The reform aims to improve students’ learning environments and optimise the use of educational resources.

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Progress or impact: By 2015, seven state upper secondary schools were operating, and co-operation agreements had been made with six local authorities (Ministry of Education and Research, 2015[186]). By 2019, 16 out of the 24 upper secondary schools were also in operation.

A 2016 OECD review found that the reduction in the number of schools and teachers had not caught up with the decreasing number of school-age students, but first measures showed that the system had adapted overall to demographic changes (Santiago et al., 2016[187]). It was found that the funding formula exerted some pressure on municipalities to rationalise their school networks as they faced a decreasing number of students. The OECD review also noted that all stakeholders agreed to continue to strengthen the school network.

The government’s support measures included: direct intervention in general upper secondary education; the creation of incentives for municipalities to consolidate their schools; the steering of part of the EU structural and investment funds (2014-20) towards improving educational infrastructure; and readiness to take over the responsibility for part of the educational expenditures so far covered by municipalities. New state-run gymnasiums were also set up in every county capital to increase system efficiency and supply quality instruction to students. The government also helped in the municipalities’ efforts to consolidate general upper secondary school networks through incentives.

At the same time, the OECD review team supported the government’s approach to not grant municipalities the possibility to set up new schools that combined the teaching of primary and lower secondary education with Years 10-12. The implementation of the “recentralisation” of general upper secondary education was found to encounter obstacles, and the OECD review recommended paying close attention during further implementation (Santiago et al., 2016[187]).

  • One of the goals of the Lifelong Learning Strategy 2014-20 is to increase teachers’ salaries to 120% of the average national salary by 2020 (from 95% in 2011 and 107% in 2015) (European Commission, 2017[188]). Another goal is to raise the percentage of teachers under the age of 30 to 12.5% by 2020. A further goal is to assess teachers and school principals and to ensure that their salaries are consistent with the qualifications required for the job and work-related performance.

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Progress or impact: As of 2017, the minimum school teacher monthly salary was set to be raised to EUR 1 050 and the average teacher monthly salary to EUR 1 300. The average salary was at EUR 1 201, however, in 2017 (Statistics Estonia, 2018[189]).

In 2019, the minimum monthly salary is set to be raised to EUR 1 250. The state provided additional funding to increase pre-primary school teacher salaries to at least 80% of the minimum salary in general education by September 2017 as well as an additional increase of 85% in 2018 and 90% in 2019 (European Commission, 2017[188]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

School improvement

  • A career structure (2014) based on professional standards and the acquisition of competencies has been introduced for both general education teachers (four levels) and vocational education teachers (three levels). According to OECD evidence, the new structure is improved over the previous, complex and resource-intensive system of teacher accreditation, but at the time of writing of this report, its potential has not yet been fully realised (Santiago et al., 2016[187]). Some of the improvements include the fact that the certification process is competency-based; there are better links to teaching practice; and the system appears to be owned by the profession through the leadership of the Estonian Association of Teachers.

Evaluation and assessment

  • Estonia has implemented an external evaluation “concept” (2014) to emphasise the analytical and supportive role of the national level and make further use of national databases to inform the public and provide feedback to schools on their performance (Public Information Act). It emphasises the assessment of general competencies and formative assessment. Internal assessment and action plans agreed at the school level are also considered central elements of evaluation. The ministry may support schools by providing counselling for internal performance reviews. Estonia is also developing diagnostic mechanisms in 2019 that will primarily target learning outcomes in science literacy, mathematics and reading.

  • Estonia has implemented several programmes to improve evaluation and assessment. Since 2018, the Foundation Innove assesses students’ general competencies (learning, self-management, digital and communication skills) and knowledge of scientific literature. In addition, Estonia plans to use an electronic tool to evaluate the digital environment of its schools ( Information about schools’ main indicators is published on the school card website ( Teachers can access diagnostic tests to help them adapt their teaching to students’ needs. Well-being questionnaires with questions about, for example, students’ learning habits, are used to survey students, teachers and parents.

  • The Estonian Education Data System (EHIS, 2005) is a public database that collects data on educational institutions, students, teachers, graduation, textbooks and curricula. Responsibility for accuracy of the data lies with the data provider.


Selected education policy responses


  • The responsibilities of the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education (EKKA, previously named Estonia Higher Education Quality Agency), the agency responsible for quality assurance in higher education, have changed over the last decade. In 2008, EKKA mandated that an assessment and accreditation of the quality of study programmes in higher education institutions should be conducted every seven years (ENQA, 2013[190]). Accreditation must also provide feedback about the management and work of the higher education institution (HEI) as a whole.

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Progress or impact: Between 2012 and 2018, all higher education institutions underwent the accreditation process, and two institutions failed to be accredited (in 2019, at least one of them had been closed down). A pilot launched in 2011 for the accreditation of vocational education and training (VET) study programme groups in 24 institutions (EKKA, 2017[191]). By the end of 2018, 246 VET curricula groups had been evaluated, and of these, 238 received full accreditation. The amendment to the law waived the existing procedure, and quality assessment will now be carried out once every six years in the curriculum groups.

Quality assessment is now carried out to be more supportive of school development by providing input on improvement activities and exemplary practices to the school, the school staff and other stakeholders. Only 3% of all curricula groups of vocational training institutions (eight school curricula groups) had a three-year accreditation at the time of writing this report and will have to undergo a re-evaluation to be eligible for indefinite training (National information reported to the OECD).

As a member of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) and a registered member of the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR), Estonia’s quality assurance system must undergo an external review every five years, in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) (EKKA, 2018[192]). In a recent self-evaluation report, EKKA described its actions taken in response to ENQA’s recommendations following its 2012 external review (EKKA, 2017[191]). Following its 2017 review, ENQA found the agency compliant with the ESG and renewed its ENQA membership until 2023 (EKKA, 2018[193]). ENQA suggested EKKA could benefit from better tools for information exchange, such as a Stakeholder Advisory Board. ENQA also suggested developing methods for eliciting specific feedback from students, and that experts could be valuable for future improvement (Finance, 2018[194]). EKKA informed ENQA that there was no need to establish a board as the pre-existing channels for communication would be sufficient (National information reported to the OECD).

At the same time, EKKA has started to work on collecting feedback from experts to improve its activities and now also provides the HEIs’ feedback about the accreditation process to experts. Further national information reported that steps are being taken to respond to the following recommendations:

  1. 1. “EKKA must reconsider its approach to reviewing institutional compliance with the ESG standards on internal quality assurance in the three areas omitted from its mapping. The gaps in its framework in relation to information management and reporting on the new guidelines for PhD Study Programmes should be addressed. On initial assessments, the approach should address comprehensively all of ESG, Part 1, particularly on Teaching and Learning (Standard 1.3).”

  2. 2. “EKKA needs to put in place a more structured approach to the dissemination and utilization of thematic analyses and to demonstrate more systematically how it uses the outcomes of these analyses.”


  • Estonia’s national investment programme to support the consolidation of the upper secondary school network for general education (2014-20) and make public spending more efficient is ongoing. The investment programme aims to raise quality and diversity in learning opportunities and adapt upper secondary education to the country’s changing demographics and labour market developments (European Commission, 2016[195]). In 2014-20, total funding for this effort will be EUR 241 million, including EUR 204.8 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), according to information reported to the OECD.

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Progress or impact: Two years after implementation, the European Commission reported that education quality at the upper secondary level varies from Estonian-language schools to Russian-language schools. In response, a gradual shift to Estonian-language upper secondary schools is underway (European Commission, 2016[195]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • Governance reforms took place in the two largest higher education institutions in Estonia (University of Tartu [Tartu Ülikool, UT] and the Tallinn University of Technology [Tallinna Tehnikaülikool, TTÜ]) in 2011 and 2015, respectively, to increase the voice of students and external representatives in the universities’ decision-making processes. Following the reforms, the academic and administrative structures of both institutions were redefined. In its 2012 Annual Report, the University of Tartu reported its management reform (2011) had resulted in a new governance model distributing the functions of the former University Council between two new governing bodies, the University Council and Senate. Since the reform, the 11-member University Council holds responsibility for adopting the university’s statutes and approving its strategic plan and budget. The council consists of five university members and six members representing the university’s external partners (five appointed by the Ministry of Education and Research, and one by the Estonian Academy of Sciences). The 22-member Senate makes academic decisions on behalf of the university and holds responsibility for teaching and research and development activities. Along with representatives from each of the four areas of teaching and research, the Senate includes five student representatives (University of Tartu, 2012[196]). Similarly, amendments to the Tallinn University of Technology Act (Tallinna Tehnikaülikooli seadus) were enforced in 2015, updating TTÜ’s governance structure. The reform distributed the functions of TTÜ’s Council of the University among three new governing bodies: the Board of Governors, the Council and the Rector (TTÜ, 2015[197]). Following the reform, in 2016, the new Board of Governors adopted a development plan to simplify the institution’s academic and administrative governance structures by 2020. In 2016, this prompted the reduction of TTÜ’s administrative and structural support units from 18 to 9. TTÜ’s 2016 Annual Report describes how the entry into force of these new statutes clearly defined the roles of each governing body: the Rector’s responsibility for administrative management of the university, budget issues overseen by the Rector and the Board of Governors, and academic issues under the competence of the Council (TTÜ, 2016[198]).


  • In 2017, Estonia’s higher education system shifted from performance-based funding for the most part to 80% baseline and 20% performance funding (up to 17% based on performance indicators and up to 3% on performance agreements) (Lees, 2016[199]). The European Commission reports that criteria for the new model’s funding decisions include the proportion of students graduating within the nominal time with the biggest weight (35%), the proportion of graduates employed or continuing to master’s or doctorate (20%), the proportion of foreign students (10%) and mobile students (10%) (European Commission, 2017[188]). Additional criteria are the proportion of students accepted to fields of responsibility (15%) and revenues from educational activities (10%). The European Commission also reports that the funding system changed because the previous model, adopted under the Higher Education Reform (2013), risked creating sudden fluctuations in funding in the specific national context. The new funding system provides for more stability of resources, while performance indicators target the timely completion of studies. Recent data indicate minor improvements in the proportion of students graduating on time, the proportion of students studying in priority fields, an increase in the proportion of foreign students in Estonian universities, and of Estonian students participating in mobility abroad (European Union, 2018[200]).

  • Under the Higher Education Reform (2013), higher education became free of charge for students studying full time in Estonian. The reform also introduced a needs-based support system, offering students from disadvantaged backgrounds a study allowance of EUR 75-220 per month. Students are only eligible if they are studying full time in Estonian. As of 2015, the system was accessible to students fulfilling at least 75% of the required semester curriculum (European Commission, 2016[201]). Additional funding is available to students who initially do not qualify for financial aid, whose socio-economic situation has worsened considerably in recent months (European Commission, 2016[201]).

  • Since 2018, a new funding model for Estonia’s vocational and educational institutions includes basic funding and performance-based funding, replacing the previous system based on per capita financing (CEDEFOP, 2018[202]). The European Commission reports that performance-based funding will account for an average of 8% of the total budget. Eligibility for performance-based funding depends on the proportion of students who complete a study programme within the nominal time; who complete the professional examination then graduate, or who continue their studies after finding employment; and the proportion of students in workplace-based learning. According to the European Commission, the new model fixes basic funding for three years and bases its distribution on student numbers, fields of study, teachers’ salaries, integration of students with special educational needs, access to support specialists and school infrastructure. The new funding model aims to promote innovation and better co-operation between schools and companies (European Union, 2018[200]).

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