Achieving greater equity in education is a central goal of education systems worldwide. Students’ individual circumstances – over which they have no control – such as their parents’ occupations, the language they speak at home or their place of birth, continue to be strong predictors of achievement in school. Analyses based on PISA data have repeatedly shown that while many disadvantaged students succeed at school, students from affluent families tend to outperform their disadvantaged peers in all subjects.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent disruption in schooling exposed the inherent inequities of education systems. Learning losses during school closures were most severe among less advantaged students, students living in rural areas, and students with learning difficulties. The pandemic showed how students from marginalised backgrounds can, for various reasons, fall behind: they tend to have more limited access to digital learning resources at home; often, they have less support from their parents; and they can be simply less motivated to learn on their own. Even less widely recognised is the fact that students taught by teachers who weathered the storm caused by school closures have had very different learning experiences to students whose teachers struggled.

Among all the things that schools can do to raise students’ cognitive and social-emotional skills, teacher quality is by far the most important. Research shows that children taught by different teachers often experience very different educational outcomes. This suggests that the distribution of good teachers is crucial to achieving greater equity in education. And that a truly robust recovery from the pandemic requires good teachers to be allocated to the students who have suffered the most.

In most education systems, however, socio-economic disadvantage tends to be compensated for in terms of quantity rather than quality because quality is usually much harder to measure. Typically, investments to help disadvantaged students target visible and measurable indicators, such as smaller classes and/or lower student-teacher ratio. Unfortunately, more resources does not always mean better resources.

This report focuses on teacher quality. It shows how teachers with certain characteristics and practices tend to concentrate in certain types of schools. It also shows how students with different socio-economic backgrounds differ in their access to good teachers. Compared to previous OECD reports, the current report expands on the range of teacher and school characteristics and practices analysed through the lens of equity.

This report relies on the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). Based on the best available research evidence to elicit information on teacher characteristics and practices associated with effective teaching and higher student performance. TALIS is the largest international and periodic survey on teachers and school leaders about their working conditions and learning environments.

What we find is a mixed bag. Systematic sorting is evident along some dimensions that are related to effective teaching, such as teacher experience and time spent by teachers on actual teaching. More often than not, experienced teachers and those who maximise instruction time are over-represented in socio-economically advantaged schools. This matters since the reading proficiency of disadvantaged students tends to be higher in education systems where experienced teachers are more evenly distributed across schools. However, on a more positive note, the sorting of teachers along other characteristics and practices of effective teaching, such as the content of their initial education, self-efficacy, cognitive activation and clarity of instruction, is less prevalent.

The report places a special focus on students’ access to digital learning in school. The pandemic has made the use of information and communication technology (ICT) much more pervasive and this is only the beginning of education’s digital transformation. Technology can improve teaching and learning, help students acquire a broader range of skills, and improve equity. However, when ICT infrastructure is inadequate or teachers are ill at ease with digital tools, technology can lead to an increase in inequalities. The pandemic has exposed the challenge education systems face in addressing inequalities in students’ digital learning. We believe that this report, which draws on TALIS 2018 data collected before the pandemic, reveals valuable insights into the extent and nature of digital divides.

The report explores the types of schools (and students) that are more likely to benefit from the resources needed for effective digital learning. The results show that the provision of quality instruction in socio-economically disadvantaged and public schools is more likely to be hindered by insufficient Internet access and inadequate digital technology. In addition, teachers with high self-efficacy in ICT use tend to be over-represented in private schools. Here as well, we find a link between teacher allocation and student outcomes. Notably, opportunities to learn digital literacy skills are more equitable when the distribution of teachers with high digital self-efficacy is more even.

In sum, the findings of this report suggest that effective teachers do not necessarily work in the schools that need them most and that this can give rise to socio-economic inequalities in student performance. This calls for policies aimed at ensuring a more equitable allocation of teachers. The match between teachers and schools can be improved in most education systems. However, this is easier said than done. The right policy mix is required, one that is sensitive to the specific context of each country’s education system. Teacher allocation touches upon various issues, from school autonomy in staffing to teacher preferences and incentives. The criteria and processes guiding the recruitment of teachers and funding allocation for schools are, of course, central.

With a more equitable allocation of teachers comes the promise of more educational opportunities for the most disadvantaged students. The potential returns to education are huge. Greater equity can mean a more efficient use of resources; the growth of knowledge and skills among all students, not just the few; and a step further toward social justice. These are all essential building blocks for our social and economic development, and cohesion. It is worth all the efforts required.

Andreas Schleicher

Director for Education and Skills

Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD Secretary-General

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2022

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at