Chapter 1. How PISA examines effective policies and successful schools

Worldwide trends such as globalisation, technological change and growing inequality are posing new challenges to education systems and schools around the world (OECD, 2019[1]). School-management policies and practices play a key role in determining how education systems can respond to these challenges.

This volume describes school organisation – the policies and practices that define how education systems and schools work and change over time (Bidwell, 2001[2]) – in the 79 countries/economies that participated in PISA 2018. It examines ways in which school organisation is related to performance, equity in students’ learning outcomes and student well-being. The volume also analyses trends in school organisation to understand how schools and school systems have changed during the past decade, and how these changes are related to changes in performance and equity in students’ learning outcomes.

Building on the experience of prior PISA reports (OECD, 2016[3]; OECD, 2013[4]; OECD, 2016[5]), this volume focuses on four policy-relevant areas of school organisation (Figure V.1.1):

  • Grouping and selecting students – the structure of instructional grades and programmes that students must complete in order to graduate from schooling (i.e. vertical stratification), and how students are grouped and selected into different curricular programmes and ability groups (i.e. horizontal stratification)

  • Resources invested in education – the amount and kind of human resources (i.e. teacher and support staff) and material resources (i.e. physical infrastructure and pedagogical materials, including computers and other digital devices) available for schools, and how these resources are allocated and used; the amount of financial resources invested in education (i.e. expenditure per student over the theoretical duration of studies); the amount of students’ learning time that takes place during regular school hours for key subjects, such as language of instruction, mathematics and science; and the learning opportunities that schools offer to their students after regular school hours (e.g. additional lessons, support with homework, extracurricular activities)

  • Education system governance – how public and private organisations are involved in the administration and funding of schools, and the degree of school choice and school competition

  • Evaluation and assessment – the policies and practices through which education systems assess student learning and evaluate teacher practices and school outcomes (i.e. evaluation and assessment).

For each of these policy areas of school organisation, the report explores three main questions:

  1. 1. What are the main cross-country differences in school organisation policies and practices? And how does school organisation vary within countries according to school characteristics, such as the school’s socio-economic profile, location and public or private ownership (according to PISA 2018 data)?

  2. How are school-organisation policies and practices changing over time (across PISA cycles)?

  3. What is the relationship between these school-organisation policies and practices, and student achievement and equity? What is the relationship between changes in policies and practices over time and changes in education outcomes (performance and equity)?

As discussed in Volume I of PISA 2018 Results, academic performance amongst 15-year-old students varies widely, and that variation can be broken down into differences at the student, school and school system levels. In PISA 2018, across all countries and economies, about 23% of the variation in reading performance pertained to mean differences in student performance between the participating school systems (Figure V.1.2). Across OECD countries, 6% of the variation in reading performance lay between school systems. On average across all participating countries and economies, about 33% of the variation in reading performance within countries lay between schools and 67% lay within schools. Across OECD countries, 31% of the variation in reading performance within countries lay between schools and 69% lay within schools.

This chapter relates school organisation to student performance within and between countries/economies. It also analyses differences between countries and economies in the relationships amongst school organisation, performance in reading, and the level of equity in a school system. The cross-national analyses provide an overview of how system-level attributes and key organisational arrangements are related to student performance, equity in school systems and student well-being. As always, such relationships require further study in order to determine causality; hence implications of causality are beyond the scope of this report (Box V.1.1).

This is the fifth of six volumes that present the results from PISA 2018. It begins, in this first chapter, by providing the rationale and analytical framework for the report. Chapters 2 and 3 explore policies and practices related to vertical and horizontal stratification. Chapter 4 discusses human resources and Chapter 5 examines material resources. Chapter 6 looks at student learning time. Chapter 7 discusses private schools and school competition. Chapter 8 analyses evaluation and assessment practices. The concluding chapter discusses the policy implications of the results.


[2] Bidwell, C. (2001), “Analyzing Schools as Organizations: Long-Term Permanence and Short-Term Change”, Sociology of Education, Vol. 74, pp. 100-114,

[1] OECD (2019), Trends Shaping Education 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] OECD (2016), Low-Performing Students: Why They Fall Behind and How To Help Them Succeed, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[3] OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[4] OECD (2013), PISA 2012 Results: What Makes Schools Successful (Volume IV): Resources, Policies and Practices, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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