Remarks by Angel Gurría
11 September 2018 - Paris, France
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:
Today, I am delighted to launch Education at a Glance 2018. This edition – the 27th in the series – shines the spotlight on equity.
Equity permeates the work of the OECD and it has been one of our top priorities for the past decade. Our latest tool, the Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth, provides policy advice to inform action in key areas such as: investing in people and places that have been left behind; providing equal opportunities; and supporting inclusive labour markets, among others. Education remains at the core of these objectives.
Here in France, improving equity is at the heart of education policy. This is a welcome and much-needed focus. Our PISA 2015 data show that the impact of parental socioeconomic background on children’s performance has increased significantly over the last decade in France. Urgent action is needed to reverse this alarming trend. We¬ have the responsibility to ensure that personal or social circumstances do not impede students at all ages from realising their potential. This should be education’s promise to all.
Let me highlight some of the report’s key findings and their implications for France.
Let's begin with the first years of life. OECD research confirms that affordable and high quality early childhood education and care – or ECEC – can improve children’s cognitive abilities and socio-emotional development while also helping to reduce poverty and improve social mobility. Children who attend at least two years of ECEC perform around 15 points higher on the PISA science test after accounting for socioeconomic status. But countries still spend a smaller share of public money on ECEC than on higher education.
In France, the enrolment of 3-year olds in ECEC is virtually universal (99%) and is significantly higher than the OECD average of 76%. Next year, ECEC enrolment will become compulsory for all children in France starting at age three.
However, the child-to-teacher ratio is much higher in France than in other OECD countries. Today there are, on average, 23 students per pre-primary teacher in France – 8 more than the OECD average.
Given the key role that ECEC plays in child development, learning and well-being, we must ensure that children receive adequate interaction and instruction. Lower ECEC staff to child ratios are critical in this respect. Better educated ECEC staff with specialised training can help to improve children’s well-being, development and learning outcomes. This is especially critical for disadvantaged children, who stand to benefit the most from interventions that occur during the first three years of life, when their brains are rapidly laying the foundations for their future skill development.
The report also sheds light on the importance of empowering teachers and school leaders and including them in the decision-making process.
Improving education is a collective effort involving all stakeholders: the Ministry of Education, local authorities, teachers, school leaders and other members of the education community. Many countries today debate how responsibilities should be divided and at what level decisions about education policy should be made. This issue is complex. A centralised approach to education with a standardised allocation of resources does not necessarily guarantee equitable outcomes.
In France, the central government makes more than half of the decisions taken at the lower secondary level, while only 10% are taken at the school level. This is quite different from the OECD average, with schools making over 30% of decisions.
Supporting the professional development of teachers and school leaders and ensuring they have the flexibility to make decisions tailored to the needs of their students is an important part of delivering high-quality and equitable education in France.
Improving the attractiveness of the profession for teachers and for school leaders is an equally important challenge. This is particularly true for primary education. In France, school leaders in primary education earn nearly 40% less than their peers in lower secondary schools. This represents the largest earnings difference between primary and secondary school heads across all OECD countries. In addition, primary school heads earn only 7% more than teachers at the same level, the lowest premium among OECD countries.
The responsibilities of primary school leaders in France are also very limited, not only compared to other OECD countries, but also compared to lower secondary school leaders. Enhancing the status and role of school leaders and teachers will be key to raising the learning outcomes of all students.
As with previous editions, Education at a Glance 2018 confirms the importance of upper secondary school education for successful labour market integration. In France, the gap in employment rates between a person with and without upper-secondary qualifications or the equivalent is 20 percentage points (53% versus 73%), slightly above the average for OECD countries (18 percentage points).
In many OECD countries, a student’s socioeconomic status or personal background strongly influences their decision to enrol in either vocational or general education. For example, the share of students whose parents have not attained upper secondary education is only around 10% among entrants to general secondary programmes in France but more than 20% among entrants to vocational programmes.
Despite these inequities, there are strengths in the French vocational system that can be leveraged to ensure better outcomes for these students. For example, students in upper secondary vocational tracks in France have advantageous student-to-teacher ratios. There is one teacher for every nine vocational students, compared to the OECD average of 1:13 and their peers in general education (1:13). Moreover, expenditure per pupil in France is 35% higher in vocational courses, compared to the OECD average (USD 15,000 versus USD 11,000).
The main challenge for France, as for many other OECD countries, is improving the quality of vocational training while also changing perceptions about these programmes. The general academic pathway continues to be regarded as the “prestige” path, with vocational routes considered second-best. Developing and promoting apprenticeships is critical to changing the image of vocational education and ensuring that programmes provide equitable access and outcomes to students.
While Education at a Glance 2018 identifies opportunities to address educational inequity from early childhood through to adulthood in France and other countries, it also highlights entrenched challenges, particularly in relation to gender. Boys remain more likely than girls to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and not attain a tertiary education. But despite their better performance at school, women still have worse employment and earning outcomes, partly because they make different choices on what to study. For example, only 6% of women pursue an engineering degree compared to 25% of men.
The report also shows that children and young people with an immigrant background, especially first- and second-generation immigrants, continue to face challenges: for example, they are less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree (in countries with available data). We have a collective responsibility to tackle these inequalities.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
“Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” I am sure that these words by Nelson Mandela referred to high quality education and to the ultimate challenge of reducing and eliminating inequalities. To achieve both, governments need reliable and comparable data. We very much hope that this report equips them with the data needed to design, develop and deliver better education policies for better lives. Thank you.
Press Release: More efforts needed to improve equity in education