Building a High-Quality Teaching profession


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

New York, 17 March 2011

Secretary Duncan, Mrs Hopgood, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to join you at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The teaching profession is central to the work of the OECD. The reason is simple: The quality of teaching is the single biggest in-school influence on student learning, which in turn shapes the future of societies.

As fundamental technological and demographic challenges re-shape our economies, the quality of student learning is the yardstick for long-term growth. Education can become the great equalizer, the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege. But that promise only holds when we ensure that every student has access to excellent teaching. And that requires that all teachers -- not just some – are equipped for effective learning.

Yet, the world has changed. Past are the days when teaching content and routine skills were at the center of education. Pupils access Google, routing cognitive skills are digitized or outsourced, and job profiles are changing. The incredible range of successful experiences this Summit has brought together shows that there is a lot we can achieve together. The teaching profession can play an amazingly constructive role. They can shape this new world by enabling students to become lifelong learners and to manage complex ways of thinking and working that computers cannot do. They can bring human qualities to the task, such as imagination, personalisation, and the capacity to assume responsibility.

This brings me to the topic of my presentation today: What measures can governments undertake to ensure that our students rise to today’s challenges?

This summit provides an excellent example of how governments and teacher organisations can join forces to move the profession forward.

Teachers as high level knowledge professionals

The discussions have made clear that we can no longer afford to organize teaching along the lines of a factory model, with teachers treated as interchangeable widgets, where work is directed by a command and control system.

Strong education systems pay careful attention to the profile of their teachers and attract excellent candidates. Much like corporations, they make sure that professional profiles evolve in a way that supports school and system change. They strive to align individual aspirations with broader objectives. It was impressive to see how Finland, Japan or Singapore have coped to transform the work organization of their schools such that professional norms and ways of working complement administrative accountability and control.

When I hear the Finnish Minister say that she got over 6000 applications for 600 teaching post last year I conclude that Finland may be doing something right. This includes how teaching is organized, how career prospects are established, with opportunities for career diversity, and how teachers are given responsibility as professionals.

It is also clear from the contributions of both the Finnish minister and the Finnish union leader that it is vital that teacher recruits have genuine motivation and passion to be teachers and have the personal and professional skills to be successful teachers.

And Canada’s success in reaching out to recruit teachers from all societal groups is something many countries can learn from. This can in turn help teachers meet the educational needs of students from all social groups.

Improving today’s teaching force

However, recruitment policies alone are not enough. If we put great new teachers into poor systems, the system wins every time. I have been impressed by how countries like Canada, Germany or Poland have been able to advance their teaching force in a very short time. They have shown us how to harmonize professional and career developments with school and system change. They have demonstrated how in-service training, appraisal and reward can be closely aligned. And how learning that improves individual competencies goes hand in hand with co operation among teachers to produce better instruction in the classroom.

But effective development of teachers demands professional development, along with appropriate career structure and diversity. I was very encouraged when I saw from the results of the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) that effective forms of development are welcomed by teachers themselves. As it happens, many teachers are even willing to contribute to the cost of improved education, with money and time.

We have also learned that effective individual professional development sits alongside collective learning, with teachers exchanging ideas and collaborating to improve classroom practice. Japan’s example of the “open classroom” principle where peer observation of classroom teaching is embedded and welcomed as standard practice is a good illustration of this.

The Summit also brought invaluable examples of how you can establish attractive forms of employment that balance flexibility with job security and grant sufficient authority for schools to manage and deploy their human resources. That includes how you deal with instruments such as probation, renewal of teacher licenses, teacher mobility and so on. But perhaps most importantly, it is about how you provide for attractive teaching careers, where you do not lose your best teachers.

Let me touch upon some difficult issues. We have seen during these two days that education is still far from being a knowledge industry, in the sense that its own practices are being continuously transformed by greater understanding of their efficacy. While in many other fields, people enter their professional lives expecting that what they do and how they do it will be transformed by evidence and research, this is still not common in education.

But you cannot improve what you cannot evaluate. That underlines that teacher evaluation is essential for improving both individual performances and collective school outcomes. But it must be done well and we have seen today that this is easier said than done. Designing effective teacher-appraisal systems requires careful balancing between objectives: accountability, on the one hand, and improvement, on the other. And we need to be clear about the criteria against which teachers should be appraised. Student learning outcomes are at the core of this, but other aspects are important too.

The Summit has underscored that more can be done to align evaluation and appraisal with the process of system change.

We have also learned from successful systems that much of appraisal’s effectiveness depends upon the way in which it is followed through. In high performing systems, school leaders are equipped at using appraisal intelligently, keeping teacher appraisal well connected with career development and diversity. This resonated clearly in the account we heard from Singapore about the system developed there.

Also essential are how teachers improve their professional skills and the part they play in improving the school and system as a whole.

A controversial issue is the relation between assessed performance and teacher compensation. Preventing such links by law and regulation does not make much sense. Conversely, linking compensation solely to narrowly defined tests is not helpful either.

We must find the right balance, taking into account students’ learning progress. Ideally, no teacher should get a high appraisal without contributing to improved student learning. Equally important, no teacher should get a low appraisal in return for a good job in raising student outcomes. Whatever system we choose to achieve this, it must be robust, well understood and transparently applied.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We have seen during these two days that much remains to be done to improve education. There is a long way to go before good practices feed into the system, ultimately shaping and improving it. In many fields, people enter their professional lives expecting that what they do and how they do it will evolve overtime, the result of evidence and research. This is still not common in education.

But this Summit authorizes many reasons to be hopeful. What I found most encouraging is that in high performing systems, governments and the profession work together to put teachers at the heart of educational reform. This was best illustrated from by our colleagues from Finland.  As Secretary Duncan just said, one key lesson from high-performing nations is that educational progress requires tough-minded collaboration, rather than tough-minded confrontation.

If teachers are treated as “part of the problem” rather than part of the solution, teaching will never attract those with talent and ambition. Teachers will not be encouraged to take responsibility and those supporting teachers’ interests will tend to resist reform.

We need to bring the teachers to the center of the solution, giving them the tools and responsibility to lead change. They are essential allies.

Ultimately, however, the improvement of student outcomes can only be the result of what happens in the classroom. Only reforms that are successfully implemented in classrooms make a difference.

Expectations about the pace and nature of reforms to improve outcomes also need to be realistic. Reforms that are rooted in realistic expectations can be backed by sustainable financing. This is not irrelevant at times of tight budgets.

Several excellent interventions, for example from Brazil, Estonia and Canada have reminded us of the need to spend budgets in ways that make the greatest difference to student learning, but also to allow time for reforms to take effect.

The OECD attaches great importance to this topic and will continue to back your efforts with robust evidence about what works and what doesn’t. Count on us to help as you push for reforms!

Our role is to provide governments with robust, internationally comparable evidence and with advice on how to make good use of this evidence to advance the teaching profession and to improve student learning outcomes.

We will also provide a framework for countries to share and jointly develop effective approaches to educational policy and practice. And we will continue to bring government, the unions and the business sector to the table to work together towards effective and sustainable solutions.

Just a few months away, on 28-29 June this year, the Japanese Minister of education and the OECD will organize an event on educational reform in Tokyo, to build on your discussion today.

I hope to see many of you there.
Thank you.



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