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Schools in the United Kingdom 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 of disciplinary climate of -0.08 (the OECD average index value was 0.00). Student truancy in 2015 was also higher than the OECD average: 25.5% 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%. However, students in the United Kingdom were more likely to report that their science teachers adapt their instructions more frequently than the OECD average, with an index of adaptive instruction of 0.15 (the OECD average index value 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 among the highest in the OECD at 0.85 for the United Kingdom (the OECD average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). The proportion of lower secondary teachers in 2016 aged 50 or over was 17.5%, which was below the OECD average of 35.4% (OECD, 2018[2]). According to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools in the United Kingdom have higher levels of autonomy over curriculum than on average across the OECD: 94.8% of principals reported that the school has primary autonomy over curriculum, compared to the OECD average of 73.4% (OECD, 2016[1]). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 28.8% of teachers in England (United Kingdom) 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, all school leaders in the United Kingdom are expected to conduct self-evaluations of their schools (100% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 93.2%) and they are also much more likely than average to undergo external evaluations of their schools (96.9% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 74.6%). 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 59%, which was higher than the OECD average of 31% (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2017, school autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) were higher in the United Kingdom than on average across the OECD: for example, 75% of decisions in England and 50% of decisions in Scotland are taken at the school level, compared to the OECD average of 29%.

The United Kingdom’s annual expenditure per student at primary level in 2015 was USD 11 630, which was among the highest among OECD countries (the OECD average was USD 8 631). At secondary level, the United Kingdom spent USD 10 569 per student, compared to the OECD average of USD 10 010, while at tertiary level (including spending on research and development) the United Kingdom spent USD 26 320 per student, compared to the OECD average of USD 15 656. In 2015, expenditure on primary to tertiary education in the United Kingdom as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was 6.2%, which was one of the highest rates in the OECD (the average was 5%). The proportion coming from private sources (including household expenditure, expenditure from other private entities and international sources) was higher in the United Kingdom than the OECD average (30.7% compared to 16.1%) (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

The United Kingdom’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.29).

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Table 8.29. Evolution of key education policy priorities, United Kingdom (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

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

School improvement

According to OECD evidence, teacher preparation in England needs to find the right balance of pedagogical training and competence; formal teacher qualification requirements should not create obstacles to the recruitment of those with significant industry experience; and teacher preparation needs to reflect the particular needs of those who are going to teach vocational, rather than academic programmes. [2013]

In Scotland, the OECD found there is a need for a stronger teaching profession, and the career structure is relatively flat. [2015]

In Wales, the OECD found support staff do not have clear longer-term career opportunities, and many do not have good working conditions. Leadership capacity in schools and at other levels of the system remains under-developed. The conditions to nurture a high-quality teaching profession are not fully developed. [2014]

In the United Kingdom, the OECD also identified that teacher shortages are high, and retention rates are low, mainly at the secondary level. Disadvantaged areas, in particular, struggle to attract and retain teachers, which can contribute to lower educational outcomes in these areas. [2017]

England reported ongoing challenges in attracting high-quality teachers and school leaders while providing them with the tools to manage their improvement. More recently, reducing teacher and school leader workload has been reported as a top priority. [2013; 2016-17; 2019]

Evaluation and assessment

The OECD identified that England should establish a more credible and robust system of apprenticeship qualifications coherent with the wider vocational system. [2018]

In Northern Ireland, the OECD also identified difficulty in establishing quality indicators and measures across all the education system’s objectives. There is a need to better align the national assessment approach with the knowledge and skills-based curriculum. There needs to be a regular review of the new moderation process to assess demands on capacity at the school level and centrally. In addition, parents lack a consultation platform to provide input for system evaluation and policy development. [2014]

In Scotland, shared approaches to assessment by the local authorities would help avoid duplication and contribute to a strengthened “middle” between the centre, on the one hand, and schools, on the other. Large-scale research or evaluation projects by either the universities or non-governmental agencies on what is working well in Broad General Education and what areas should be addressed should be encouraged, as recommended by the OECD. [2015]

In Wales, the leader and teacher standards on which appraisal is based have many elements making it difficult to define what should be national education priorities and to link them to an improvement agenda, as identified by the OECD. The school banding system does not set clear expectations for school quality, nor are the information and judgements always perceived to be fair. Assessment is frequently identified as a shortcoming. [2014]

England reported balancing accountability and improvement in schools as an ongoing priority. More recently, improving the quality of technical education standards to bring them in line with international systems through greater scrutiny was highlighted as a priority area. [2013; 2019]


For England, the OECD identified the need to increase awareness and motivation and improve communication and outreach. A recently identified need is to develop work-based learning and promote special types of apprenticeships by securing a constructive use of degree apprenticeships and supporting small and medium-sized employers. There is a need to adopt strong quality assurance measures for apprenticeship training to ensure quality and that the apprenticeship levy incentives work constructively. [2012; 2018]

In Northern Ireland, there is a need for a well-designed and effective accountability system to establish communication about the accountability system’s results and limitations to schools, school providers and the public. [2014]

In Scotland, the OECD identified the need to enhance the power and leadership of school leaders, teachers and the profession. [2015]

In Wales, the OECD also found the presence of too many initiatives risks overstretching schools’ capacity to implement them adequately. Many schools lack the capacity to independently move towards educational excellence, which calls for considerable additional external support to build the required skills and help generate the motivation among educators needed to drive the reforms forward. [2014]

England reconfirmed the need to ensure efficient co-ordination among actors by reducing bureaucratic procedures and guaranteeing that sufficient funding reaches the most disadvantaged schools. [2013]


According to OECD evidence, in England, a need is funding and support for an effective apprenticeship system. [2018]

In the United Kingdom, the proposal to allow universities to increase tuition fees switches a significant share of the costs of funding higher education from taxpayers to graduates. [2011]

England reported reviewing the funding of higher education as a priority, with a particular focus on ensuring that the system promotes access and success across all forms of tertiary education. [2019]


1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

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


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • Wales has introduced numerous reforms to improve initial teacher education (ITE) in recent years. These aim to raise the quality of teaching, attract more candidates to the profession and bring the system further in line with international best practice. In 2014, the government raised the requirements for entering ITE: aspiring teachers must now have at least a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) grade B in both English and mathematics. In addition, aspiring primary teachers need at least a GCSE grade C in science (OECD, 2018[592]). In 2015, a major report was published identifying the challenges facing ITE in Wales and made some key recommendations. The report called for changes at the national level, institutional level and programme level. Specific recommendations included revising the Standards for Newly Qualified Teachers and the accreditation process for ITE providers, introducing accountability measures to encourage greater collaboration between schools and ITE providers, better monitoring of the impact of financial incentives on recruitment and establishing a network of five centres of pedagogical excellence across Wales (Furlong, 2015[593]).

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Progress or impact: The Welsh government subsequently committed to implementing each of the recommendations. New ITE accreditation criteria were developed, consulted on and then published in 2018. The Teacher Education Accreditation Board was established within the Education Workforce Council in order to lead the accreditation process for individual ITE programmes.

The accreditation process requires programmes to identify a number of lead partnership schools that support the design, implementation and monitoring of the ITE programme. As of June 2018, seven ITE programmes for primary level candidates had been newly accredited (three undergraduate, four postgraduate) along with four postgraduate programmes for secondary level candidates.

The Welsh government also commissioned an independent review of the effectiveness of financial incentives for teacher training. In 2017, new incentives were announced for high-priority subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), computer science, modern foreign languages and Welsh, with high-performing graduates with a postgraduate degree in one of those subjects receiving an incentive of between around EUR 17 400 and EUR 23 000. These were extended into 2019/20.

In 2018, Estyn, the Welsh education inspectorate, published a thematic report focused on ITE provision (Wales, 2018[594]). Also in 2018, the OECD praised the ongoing efforts to foster greater collaboration between schools and ITE providers, stating that the ITE reform has been the principal driver behind a nascent culture of collaboration between schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) (OECD, 2018[592]).

Most recently, the government published a report investigating the introduction of a national equivalency entry test for ITE candidates. The report reviewed the current initiatives in place at the institutional level for those candidates who do not hold the recognised grade B qualification at GCSE. The authors recommended that national guidance be introduced in 2019/20 to encourage more coherence across institutions in the administration of equivalency tests, followed by the introduction of a new National Equivalency Entry Test as of 2020/21 (Beadle, Thomas and Hannah, 2019[595]).

  • Wales has made a concerted effort in recent years to promote collaborative working and learning across the school system. The establishment of the Pioneer Schools Network (2015) has placed school-to-school collaboration at the core of the design, development and implementation of a new curriculum for Wales. The regional consortia look to nominate schools that exhibit, among other things, excellent leadership, a passion for innovation and creativity and a commitment to professional development as Pioneer Schools. All Pioneer Schools are expected to work with each other, other schools, the consortia, the Welsh government and wider stakeholders as part of an all-Wales partnership (Government of Wales, 2015[596]). Pioneer Schools meet regularly at the national and regional level, both face to face and on line, to share experiences of innovation and learn from one another. The first wave of Pioneer Schools focused on the development of the Digital Competence Framework. Curriculum Pioneers, who looked at content and assessment of learning and New Deal Pioneers, who focused on reforms related to practitioners’ professional development, joined these Digital Pioneers from 2016 onwards. The Welsh government brings together quality assurance partners, including HEIs and other experts to review and provide regular feedback to the Pioneer Network (Government of Wales, 2015[596]).

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Progress or impact: As of 2018, around 94 primary and secondary schools had been appointed Curriculum Pioneers, 83 as New Deal Pioneers and 13 as Digital Pioneers (OECD, 2018[592]). In 2017, the OECD found that Pioneer Schools played a pivotal role in driving the development of new curricula and student assessments (OECD, 2017[597]).

Furthermore, a 2018 evaluation found that the Pioneer School model is an innovative approach to reform in Wales, representing a new way of working for all partners and demonstrating a clear commitment to empowering and supporting teachers. This has helped establish an enthusiasm for reform and a clear sense of ownership among Pioneer School representatives.

However, this evaluation also emphasises that the complex change management model inevitably means that there are significant risks regarding coherence and consistency. Some of these risks have been mitigated across implementation phases by clarification of expectations, outputs and timescales and the strengthening of monitoring and accountability mechanisms.

Finally, Pioneer Schools are obliged to cascade learning and experiences to their assigned Partner Schools. However, the evaluation found that this activity has been relatively limited across the network. New mechanisms are being put in place to address this (Davies, 2018[598]).

Evaluation and assessment

  • In England, Ofsted, the education inspectorate, makes regular updates to the schools’ inspection framework. In 2012, Ofsted launched a new framework to ensure greater focus on those aspects of schools’ work that have the greatest impact on raising achievement. This included reducing the scope of inspection, and the number of key judgements reported as well as enhancing the role of teaching observation and the collection of evidence on learning, progress and behaviour. These modifications also enabled schools to request inspections and authorised Ofsted to charge for the inspections (Ofsted, 2012[599]). In 2015, following a consultation process called Better Inspection For All, Ofsted launched far-reaching changes through introducing a new common inspection framework (CIF) for inspections in maintained schools, academies, non-association independent schools, further education and skills providers, and registered early years settings (Government of the UK, 2018[600]). The CIF focuses on four key areas: achievement, leadership, quality of teaching, and behaviour and safety. Short inspections for schools previously judged “good” were also introduced to reduce the burden on school staff (Ofsted, 2015[601]).

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Progress or impact: The most recent 2017 and 2018 Ofsted school inspection updates covered information and guidance for inspectors and stakeholders on school inspections. As of 2018, inspectors have to use the education and skills inspection handbook, which outlines the main activities of inspectors as well as the main judgments inspectors report. (Government of the UK, 2018[602]).

During 2017/18, Ofsted conducted 6 130 full and short inspections across state-funded institutions from pre-primary to upper secondary level, 54% of which were judged to be “Outstanding” or “Good”. Among early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers, the figure was 95%, compared to 74% in 2012 (Ofsted, 2018[603]).

In early 2019, Ofsted conducted a consultation on a new education inspection framework (EIF) which hopes to rebalance the focus of inspection onto the curriculum. For the first time, the consultation also covered the handbooks provided for each education level. The EIF will condense the two separate judgements for “teaching, learning and assessment” and “outcomes” into one integrated judgement. This “quality of education” judgement will consider a school’s curriculum, how it is taught, and the standards students achieve. Alongside this, there will still be separate judgements on “behaviour and attitudes”, “personal development” and “leadership and management” (National information reported to the OECD).

The EIF draws on a range of research including a review of international evidence, a programme of research on curriculum and studies looking into teacher well-being and managing challenging behaviour. It is being piloted in the school year 2018/19 and will be implemented nationally from September 2019, subject to the results of the consultation (Ofsted, 2018[603]).

  • England has reformed accountability measures in primary and secondary education. The new national curriculum test at primary level (2016) aims to reflect the revised curriculum launched in 2014. These curricular reforms included changes to mathematics, English reading and grammar, punctuation and spelling (Government of the UK, 2017[604]). How primary school performance is measured at the end of students’ primary cycle has also been reformed. To calculate progress at the school level, students’ results in standardised assessments at age 10-11 are compared with the achievements of students across the country with similar starting points (prior attainment). Teacher assessment judgements in reading, writing and mathematics at age 7-8 inform the prior attainment indicator. In 2013, the government launched a consultation on reforming the accountability system for secondary schools (DfE, 2013[605]). Based on its outcomes, the government now publishes a greater range of information regarding the national standardised assessments administered at the end of lower secondary education (age 15-16). Alongside the headline EBacc measure, which reports the number of students entered for core subjects (English language and literature, mathematics science, geography or history, a foreign language) and their performance in these subjects, two new measures were introduced. Reported from 2016 onwards, these measures consider eight subjects (five core EBacc subjects plus any three other subjects, EBacc or otherwise). Progress 8 reports progress in these subjects based on students’ prior attainment, which is derived from standardised assessments at the end of primary level (DfE, 2014[606]). Attainment 8 reports students’ performance in these subjects at the end of lower secondary education. This is complemented by reporting of the percentage of students achieving a grade 5 or above in both English and mathematics. Finally, student destination data is also published, giving the percentage of students staying in education or going into employment following completion of lower secondary (DfE, 2018[607]).

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Progress or impact: The 2018 technical guides aim to clarify the performance measures used in primary and secondary schools. The technical guide for primary schools applies to maintained schools, academies and free schools. Updates include: 1) re-introduction of three-year averages for attainment measures for primary schools; 2) methodological adjustments to reduce the disproportionate effect that a small number of extremely negative scores can have on a school’s average progress; and 3) a summary of the new statutory framework for teacher assessment with revisions set for the end of 2018 (DfE, 2018[608]).

Arrangements for testing students performing below the standard of national curriculum tests have also been reformed. In 2016, the Rochford Review published its final report, which covered children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), those coping with disadvantage or difficult home circumstances or those with English as an Additional Language (EAL). The review found that expectations related to age are not appropriate for a significant proportion of students working below the standard of the national curriculum tests. Nevertheless, those students must have the opportunity to demonstrate both attainment and progress through a method that accounts for potential differences in the way they learn (STA, 2016[609]). The DfE accepted the review’s final recommendations introducing statutory assessment of either pre-key stage standards for students engaged in subject-specific study or seven aspects of engagement for those who are not. The former were introduced at the start of the 2018/19 academic year. The latter were piloted in 2018 and will be introduced as a statutory assessment from the academic year 2020/21 (National information reported to the OECD).

The 2018 technical guide for secondary schools provided updated information on the EBacc attainment measure, a refined methodology for the Progress 8 measure to reduce the disproportionate effect that a small number of extremely negative scores can have on a school’s average progress and offered further clarification on the data used in Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures. A further update in 2019 included clarification on support for under-performing schools and advice for schools on removing unnecessary workload associated with data management (DfE, 2018[607]).

  • England has recently made changes to the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), A (Advanced) level and AS (Advanced Supplementary) level qualifications. GCSE qualifications are awarded following national examinations taken at the end of lower secondary education. A level (two year) and AS level (typically one year) qualifications are awarded following national examinations taken at upper secondary level. The Department for Education (DfE) began introducing significant reforms to the qualifications for first teaching in 2015, with subjects being phased in over four years. The reforms include the following: a new grading scale of 9 to 1 replacing the old A* to G scale; the withdrawal of certain subjects (e.g. health and social care, expressive arts); the introduction of new and more challenging subject content; and the restriction of non-exam assessment to subjects where skills and knowledge cannot be assessed validly by examination only (e.g. art and design, drama).

    The transition to new grading began with English and mathematics, which were first awarded in 2017, and will be complete by 2020. AS and A level reforms also introduce new subject content informed by input from universities. AS results will no longer count towards an A level, so students are not required to take an AS level to achieve an A level. Both qualifications will be linear, replacing the previous modular format; the grading scale remains the same.

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Progress or impact: The first results for reformed GCSEs were issued in 2017 for the English language, English literature and mathematics. The following year, reformed qualifications in 20 other subjects were awarded for the first time, and about 90% of GCSE entries were for reformed GCSEs. Overall, GCSE outcomes have remained stable as has the variability in results within centres, which suggests that schools have responded well to the reforms (Ofqual, 2018[610]). Since 2003, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) has been carrying out annual surveys of perceptions of GCSEs, AS and A Levels among a range of stakeholders that work with and use them. The survey reporting findings for 2018/19, found that the overall level of agreement that both GCSEs and A/AS Levels are well understood by people (59%) remains below the level reached before the reforms. For GCSEs, the level had decreased on the previous year among HEIs. However, results suggest that the perception of GCSEs as a trusted qualification has increased since prior to the reforms and has remained steady for AS/A levels (YouGov, 2019[611]).

  • Northern Ireland introduced new assessment arrangements in 2012/13, to align with the knowledge- and skills-based curriculum (2006) and to promote greater coherence between assessment practices in primary and post-primary schools. The new approach works on the basis that teachers are best placed to assess and report on students’ progress (National information reported to the OECD). To complement annual teacher assessment of learning, end of key stage (KS) assessment is now statutory at three key points in compulsory schooling: the end of KS 1 (age 8); the end of KS 2 (age 11); and the end of KS 3 (age 14). These statutory assessments are based upon teacher professional judgement and informed by Levels of Progression (LoPs). LoPs are written as “can do” statements for the cross-curricular skills of Communication, Using Mathematics and Using ICT, and covering seven levels (DENI, 2014[612]). Students are expected to make one level of progress per year. A system of internal and external moderation was also introduced under the authority of the Council for the Curriculum Examination and Assessment (CCEA) to ensure that the standards that schools applied in assessing students’ work were appropriate. The new arrangements were designed to be both formative and summative and to be used for a range of different assessment and accountability purposes at pupil, school and system level. At the introduction of the new arrangements, DENI instructed CCEA to provide support to schools including training, publishing guidance tools and providing substitution cover for teachers involved in assessment, as well as monitoring the initial months of implementation (DENI, 2013[613]).

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Progress or impact: Stakeholders, notably the teaching unions, raised several concerns following the introduction of the current arrangements (National information reported to the OECD). These included the use of school data at the system level for accountability and performance management purposes, the fitness for purpose of Levels of Progression and the increased workload associated with moderation procedures (DENI, 2014[612]). This has led to ongoing industrial action despite efforts by DENI to engage stakeholders in constructive debate. Additionally, DENI has introduced several changes to the new assessment arrangements incorporating the views of stakeholders.

As of 2015, participation in moderation procedures is voluntary, and DENI has committed to not holding any assessment data identifiable at the school level. More training support for teachers and substitution cover have also been promised (DENI, 2016[614]). Although several unions have withdrawn or diminished their call to action, due to ongoing industrial action, only around one-sixth of all primary schools (17%), and one-third of post-primary schools (37%) submitted key stage assessment results in 2017/18 (DENI, 2019[615]).

  • Northern Ireland’s Every School a Good School (ESaGS, 2009) policy has been at the centre of work on school improvement for a decade. The policy aims to promote a vision of schools as dynamic, well-governed and better-led communities of practice. School self-evaluation and supported self-improvement are at the core of the policy, along with a commitment to identifying and disseminating best practice (DENI, 2009[616]). Among other initiatives, ESaGS introduced the Formal Intervention Process (FIP) as a mechanism for school improvement. Schools deemed less than satisfactory following an inspection by the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) embark on the FIP, which requires them to complete a detailed action plan responding to the areas for improvement laid out in the inspection report. To support the implementation of the action plan, schools receive guidance from the Education Authority (EA) and monitoring visits from the ETI. The first follow-up inspection (FUI) occurs between 12 and 18 months after the first inspection, at which point a decision is reached on whether there has been sufficient improvement to allow schools to exit the process or remain in the FIP for another 12 months. On exiting the FIP, schools are supported to disseminate best practice and encourage peer learning (DENI, 2009[616]).

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Progress or impact: Since its introduction, the Department of Education, Northern Ireland (DENI) has monitored the effectiveness of the Formal Intervention Process (FIP) and consulted on revisions to the process (National information reported to the OECD). Following consultation, Every School a Good School was revised in 2015, setting out several changes to the FIP. This included a reduction from two to one follow-up inspection before any follow-up action is taken. This now occurs after 18-24 months after the initial inspection in all but some specific cases (DENI, 2015[617]).

In 2014, the OECD reported that primary schools involved in the FIP had responded well and demonstrated improvements. Of 21 primary schools entering the FIP from 2009-12, 13 exited the programme successfully, and only 1 closed (Shewbridge et al., 2014[618]). The FIP proved more challenging for post-primary schools: of the 13 that had entered the process in the same period, only 1 had exited, and 1 other had closed. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) found that this was primarily a result of a need for the more robust use of data to identify and address trends as well as the larger school size and, in some cases, a need to regain community confidence (ETI, 2012[619]). A total of 52 schools took part in the FIP between 2009 and 2018 (National information reported to the OECD). The number of schools requiring the FIP has decreased significantly in recent years: 45 schools entered the FIP between 2009 and 2014 (ETI, 2012[620]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

School improvement

  • England has committed to reducing teacher and school leader workload through several initiatives. In 2016, the DfE launched a large-scale, biennial survey of teacher workload in England’s schools. Results from the first round reported that the average total self-reported working hours in the seven-day reference week for teachers and middle leaders was 54.4 hours. Over three-quarters of the 3 186 respondents were dissatisfied with the number of hours they usually worked (Higton et al., 2017[621]). The same year, the DfE published reports from three independent teacher workload review groups focused on marking policy, data management, and planning and teaching resources, respectively. These reports offered targeted recommendations to different actors across all levels of the education system. The DfE has also published a Workload Reduction toolkit (2018, updated 2019) that provides schools with support in reviewing and streamlining workload. This toolkit is the result of solution-focused collaborative discussions with school leaders, teachers, education technology advisors, teacher training providers and the DfE (DfE, 2018[622]). As of 2019, materials from the toolkit have collectively been downloaded over 135 000 times (National information reported to the OECD).

  • In Northern Ireland, DENI published a Strategy for Teacher Professional Learning – “Learning Leaders” in 2016. The strategy sets out the Department’s vision for teacher professional learning through to 2025, which positions teachers as leaders of learning who are adept at working collaboratively and able to meet the challenging needs of 21st-century children. Key focus areas include the development of a teacher professional learning framework, the development and dissemination of good practice, building professional learning communities, building leadership capacity and stakeholder engagement. These are supported by 15 policy commitments focused on collaborative work by all stakeholders. Various working groups have been established to develop these key areas (DENI, 2016[623]).

Evaluation and assessment

  • In 2017, Northern Ireland’s Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) published the Inspection and Self-Evaluation Framework (ISEF), a resource common to all education phases. It is designed to support schools with self-evaluation and to increase transparency in the inspection process (National information reported to the OECD). Alongside the ISEF, ETI has published phase-specific guides to effective practice and self-evaluation questions for school leaders and managers. Based on a holistic view of learning, the ISEF has three key areas of focus: quality of provision, outcomes for learners, and leadership and management. It also takes governance, safeguarding and care and welfare into account (ETI, 2017[624]).

  • Scotland’s National Improvement Framework (2016) sets out a holistic view of the education system, bringing together evidence and information from all levels and on all aspects that impact performance. Among the six drivers of improvement, the Assessment of Children’s Progress driver considers children’s progress in its widest sense, recognising the primacy of health and well-being. A new national data collection system provides additional information at school, local and national level about children’s progress in literacy and numeracy, based on teachers’ assessment of progress (Government of Scotland, 2016[625]). To support teachers in making judgements, the government has introduced benchmarks for greater clarity on national standards - in each subject, and at each level - as well as expanding opportunities for professional dialogue around standards through the Regional Improvement Collaboratives.

    In 2019, local authorities reported that teachers feel increasingly confident when assessing progress (Government of Scotland, 2019[626]). From 2018, Scottish National Standardised Assessments provide an additional source of objective, nationally consistent evidence. These assessments occur in primary school (ages 5, 8 and 11) and lower secondary (age 14). Since 2016, attainment in the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) levels has been published annually to provide key data regarding children’s literacy and numeracy progress.


Selected education policy responses


  • England has been working to drive up standards through greater school choice and increased competition within the school system by diversifying provision and providers. The Academies Act (2010) enabled all maintained schools to convert to academy status and introduced free schools. Both school types are state-funded, non-fee paying institutions, independent of local authorities and therefore have more control over curriculum, budget and staffing. Academies are state-funded schools, which generally convert voluntarily, while a smaller proportion is legally mandated to become academies due to low performance; free schools are entirely new schools. The DfE appoints eight Regional Schools Commissioners to oversee academy and free-school performance and approve strategic and management decisions (Roberts and Danechi, 2019[627]).

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Progress or impact: By 2017, there were 6 925 open academies, free schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools; this constitutes two-thirds of secondary schools and one-fifth of all primary schools in England. By the same point, 71% of those institutions had formed groups of more than one institution known as multi-academy trusts (MATs) (DfE, 2017[628]).

In 2019, DfE published an analysis of the performance of academies that suggested that, having often been low-performing schools prior to academisation, academies are typically able to narrow, and in some cases reverse a performance deficit between them and contextually comparable maintained schools. However, there is substantial variation in performance between academies and, at both primary and secondary level, some continue to perform significantly less well than their similar schools (Hatton, Hampson and Drake, 2019[629]).

It is difficult to draw robust conclusions on free schools given the relatively small number of institutions currently in existence. In 2017, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) reported that free schools help meet the demand for new school places, but have so far failed to target areas of low school quality effectively. Also, despite being more likely to be located in an area of disadvantage, the admissions numbers for disadvantaged students in free schools are lower than would be expected, particularly at primary level (Andrews and Johnes, 2017[630]).

Both the EPI study and a later report conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) tentatively conclude that students at secondary free schools, particularly disadvantaged students, perform slightly better than their peers in maintained schools (Garry et al., 2018[631]; Andrews and Johnes, 2017[630]). However, figures may be inflated by the fact that students whose first language is not English are over-represented in the free school student population, in comparison to maintained schools. At primary level, the impact on student outcomes is less positive, but the number of primary free schools remains too small to show conclusive results (Garry et al., 2018[631]).

  • England’s Higher Education and Research Bill - Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF, 2016) aims to reward high-quality teaching as previously, it was found that teaching has been less valued than research by universities. As of 2016, the higher education institutions can request assessment and if found to provide high-quality teaching can subsequently increase tuition fees in accordance with inflation. The criteria for quality assessment were based on a previous report. In the second year (2017/18) assessment, performance was assessed against a number of quality measures including the Teaching Quality (TQ), Learning Environment (LE), and Student Outcomes/Learning Gain (SO). It was the trial year to test the framework and providers could participate on a voluntary basis. Three TEF levels were introduced including “Gold, Silver, Bronze”. Awards were given for a three-year period. Financial incentives would not be differentiated according to the level of award and all providers who achieve at least “Meets Expectations” would receive the full inflationary uplift. As of year three (2018/19) and onwards, TEF will develop to allow differential fees and subject-level fees, and ultimately postgraduate courses may be included. Providers can then do another assessment in year three or later to get a new award. In addition, subject-level pilots are planned to be done with full implementation as of year four (2019/20), including possibly also a postgraduate provision (Hubble, 2017[632]).

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Progress or impact: No assessment criteria existed for teachers in higher education when the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was first introduced. Most higher education institutions met the expectations of TEF by performing to national quality standards and were therefore allowed to increase tuition fees in line with inflation in 2017/18. The government then instituted the TEF assessment framework in the academic year 2016/17 and published the first institutional level TEF ratings in June 2017. There were further ratings in 2018, and the next round will be reported in June 2019.

As of 2018, 298 providers held a TEF rating: 72 Gold, 135 Silver, 62 Bronze and 29 provisional (National information reported to the OECD). The Office for Students (OfS), which is the regulator of higher education in England, is developing the TEF further and is in the second year of a two-year pilot for subject-level TEFs. Subject to the recommendations of an independent review of the TEF, which will report to ministers in summer 2019, full implementation of subject-level TEF is planned for 2019/20.

The OfS has formally adopted the TEF as its scheme for rating the quality of higher education, requiring all providers in England with more than 500 undergraduate students to participate in the TEF as a condition of registration with the OfS. Although this removes the financial incentive for participation, any relationship between the TEF and tuition fees will be considered within the Review of Post-18 Education and Finance (ongoing), as well as other student finance issues.

Participation in the TEF remains voluntary for higher education providers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2017, the TEF took on a new name: the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework.

  • Northern Ireland’s Education Act (2014) provided for the establishment of the Education Authority (EA) to replace Northern Ireland’s five Education and Library Boards (Northern Ireland Assembly, 2014[633]). This was the first major reorganisation of education administration since 1973. The EA took over all of the former boards’ duties and powers and is also responsible for securing adequate provision for education services across all institution types. Furthermore, it took on new duties related to shared education, the community use of school premises and the suitability of provision for students with special educational needs. The EA also provides training, advice and support for schools, and supports the development of governors, school leaders, teachers and other staff. Ultimately, it is responsible for ensuring that schools achieve good outcomes for their students in return for the money invested (National information reported to the OECD).

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Progress or impact: The Education Authority (EA) became operational from 2015 and published its first strategic plan in 2017 following extensive engagement with stakeholders and public consultation. This plan outlines the EA’s work for the decade 2017-27 and identifies six strategic priorities: 1) improve the well-being of children and young people; 2) raise standards for all; 3) close the performance gap, increasing access and equality; 4) develop the education workforce; 5) improve the learning environment; and 6) deliver high-quality education services. This is supported by a three-year Corporate Plan and annual business plans that respond to emerging priorities and challenges (EA, 2017[634])).

Due to the ongoing financial pressures facing the education sector in Northern Ireland, the first years have seen a focus on improving internal governance structures and efficiency. Within EA, there has been a 20% reduction in funding and a similar reduction in core staffing levels since 2011 (EA, 2019[635]). From 2017-18, the EA reports continuing a restructuring of management, which has helped reduce the number of senior staff inherited from the former structures by almost 50%. Additionally, a human resources model and reforms to the teaching appointment scheme have contributed to in-year savings of an estimated EUR 34 million. These savings have increased year on year from EUR 8 million in 2015-16 and EUR 29 million in 2016-17 (EA, 2019[635]).


  • England has undertaken several reforms of school funding in recent years. The School Funding Reform (2013-14) (DfE, 2013[636]) aimed to simplify the funding system in primary and secondary schools and make it more student driven to ensure that resources reach the schools and students who need it most (DfE, 2012[637]). The reform established three blocks of funding to be allocated from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG): Early Years Block, Schools Block and High Needs Block (DfE, 2013[636]). Local education authorities, in consultation with their schools’ forum, decide on the funding distribution between the blocks and set formulas for allocation to each school and early years provider (EC, 2017[638]). As such, by 2016, there existed 152 different formulae to determine funding allocation throughout the country. This, and the fact that funding allocated to local authorities was often based on historic characteristics, resulted in significant inter- and intra-regional variation in school funding. The system also lacked transparency. As a result, a major reform was proposed, establishing one single national funding formula (NFF) based on measures of student and school characteristics with a small provision for local variation (DfE, 2016[639]). Public consultations on the proposal took place during 2016-17.

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Progress or impact: The DfE reported 25 222 submitted responses to the consultation process, most coming from parents (66%), followed by governors (9%), teachers (7%) and school leaders (7%). Many responses highlighted common themes such as calls to increase basic per-student funding, a need to balance fairness and stability to ensure schools do not lose funding, and the importance of supporting low-funded schools (DfE, 2017[640]). Following the consultations, the government introduced a new national funding formula (NFF) (2017) based on 14 factors across 4 key themes: basic per-student funding, additional school needs, school-led funding, and geographic funding. This was introduced, in the academic year 2018/19.

Although the DfE originally intended for the NFF to be allocated directly to schools, an adapted model that offers local flexibility by going through local authorities remains in place until at least 2021/22. This system sees schools’ funding calculated centrally using the NFF, then distributed to local authorities who allocate funding to schools by setting a local formula that follows government guidelines. To support transparency, DfE publishes illustrative school-level allocations and schools, and local authorities have access to the underlying data with which their allocation is calculated (National information reported to the OECD).

Up to 73 out of 152 local authorities have made efforts to better align their funding models to the NFF, and the DfE has identified 41 local authorities who are now using funding settlements that are mirroring the national funding formula factor values almost exactly (DfE, 2018[641]).

As well as revising funding formulae, the government has committed to investing an additional GBP 1.3 billion for schools funding and high needs funding, across the two financial years 2018/19 and 2019/20. This increase has supported the government to raise the funding floor so that schools receive at least a 1% cash increase per student by 2019-20, compared to 2017-18 (DfE, 2017[640]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • In 2017, Scotland introduced a new layer of educational governance by establishing six Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) across the country to bring local authorities together alongside the central administration, and collaborate more effectively for greater equity and quality in education. RICs are responsible for developing regional improvement plans approved by the Chief Inspector of Education (COSLA, 2017[642]). An interim review, published six months after the RICs were established, found that, despite tight timescales and a lack of additional resources for Phase 1 of implementation, all local authorities had signed up to the RIC, and stakeholders felt positive about the initiatives and felt RICs were well aligned with national priorities. Some concerns were raised regarding a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities and an overly top-down approach, which could inhibit the collaborative aims of the RICs. Further resources have been committed to Phase 2 (Government of Scotland, 2018[643]).

  • In Scotland, in 2018, a Joint Agreement on Education Reform was reached between the Scottish government and local government. The agreement focuses on empowering actors across the system, in particular by enabling decisions that affect learning and teaching to be taken as close to the learner as possible, to ensure that needs are met and that impact on learners is high. Included within the agreement was a proposal for the Headteachers’ Charter, committing local authorities to support headteachers as the drivers of school improvement and devolving greater responsibility in decision making and resource use to the school leaders. An agreement on parental and community engagement also committed both partners to ensure parents are actively involved in matters of school policy and improvement through the principle of co-production. Finally, an agreement on pupil participation expressed a commitment to enabling children and young people to participate meaningfully in their own learning and the work of the school (Government of Scotland, 2018[644]). Although the project for a new Education Bill, which was intended to provide the legal foundation for these reforms, has been put on hold, concrete actions in each of these areas have already occurred.


  • England announced a major Review of Post-18 Education and Funding in February 2018, due to conclude in 2019. The review covers four focus areas: 1) choice and competition across a joined-up post-18 education and training sector; 2) a system that is accessible to all; 3) delivering the skills the country needs; and 4) value for money for graduates and taxpayers. The review aims to establish a more overarching system that allows students to transition easily between further education (FE) and higher education (HE) and facilitates lifelong learning. Submissions to the review process have come from, among others, universities’, students’ and employers’ representatives and academic research institutes (Hubble, Bolton and Foster, 2019[645]). Post-18 education funding has already seen substantial policy change since 2012, including a rise in tuition fees to around EUR 10 700 per year, the abolition of maintenance grants and an increase in maintenance loans and interest rate rises on loan repayments. Concurrently, there have been significant cuts to public expenditure on HE and FE. As a result, the cost to the individual has risen significantly, and this has stimulated increased debate about the value of higher education (Hubble, Bolton and Foster, 2019[645]). In 2018, the Education Committee of the UK Parliament published a report on value for money in HE to further inform the review of funding.

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