UK teenagers are more likely to aspire to work as teachers than those in most other developed countries, according to a new report.
But teaching is less attractive to high-achieving students than other professions such as science, engineering or law, shows the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
And the average maths and reading abilities of those who expect to become teachers in the UK has dropped over the past decade, according to Effective Teacher Polices: Insights from Pisa.
The report says that around 5 per cent of 15-year-olds in the UK expect to go into teaching – compared with the OECD average of 4.2 per cent.
The proportion in the UK is higher than in 24 out of 35 OECD countries.
More teens in the UK expect to teach compared with their contemporaries in countries that are renowned for the high-status of teaching, such as Finland (4.6 per cent) and Singapore (4.4 per cent), which topped the latest Pisa international league tables.
In the UK, students who expected to become teachers tended to have lower maths and reading scores in their Pisa assessments than those who wanted to become other professionals.
Those who aspired to become teachers had an average score of 491, compared with 510 for those who wanted to go into other professional jobs. The average maths score in Pisa 2015 for the UK overall was 492.
Similarly, the average reading score for a would-be UK teacher was 506, compared with 518 for those aiming for other careers. The overall average reading score in the UK in Pisa 2015 was 498.
And, compared against the maths and reading scores of those wanting to go into other professions, the pool of would-be teachers was academically weaker in 2015 than in 2006.
In contrast, in Japan and South Korea, students wanting to become teachers have higher maths and reading scores than those aiming for other careers.
Attracting high-quality candidates
“Attracting high-achieving and highly motivated candidates to the teaching profession is a top priority in many countries,” the report states.
“But the analysis in this chapter shows that only a few – and mostly high-performing – countries are able to attract top-of-the class students into teaching.
It says that not just salary increases, but better working conditions and more professional autonomy would attract high-achieving students.
The report looks at ways of attracting high-quality teachers as well as ensuring that high-quality teaching benefits all students.
It says that, in general, in countries where schools are responsible for hiring teachers, there seemed to be a more even distribution of high-quality teachers than in countries where local authorities allocate teachers to schools.
The report suggests this could be because schools with greater autonomy have “more tools to attract, and especially to retain, effective teachers, through financial incentives but also by offering coaching and mentoring support to help teachers succeed”.
However, the UK does not appear to fall into this pattern. The report adds that in some countries where schools had more autonomy over hiring staff – including the UK – teachers in advantaged schools were likely to have higher qualifications and experience than those in disadvantaged schools.
By contrast, in other countries where schools have similar levels of autonomy over hiring as the UK – such as Finland, Hong Kong and Ireland – challenging schools find it easier to attract the best teachers due to the way funding is allocated.
“It will always be difficult for teachers to allocate scarce additional time and resources to the children with the greatest need,” Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills for the OECD, wrote in the foreword to the report.
“Policymakers, too, find it challenging to allocate resources where the challenges are greatest and where those resources can have the biggest impact, because poor children usually don’t have someone lobbying for them.
“But what could be more important than better supporting those teachers and schools working in the most difficult circumstances with holistic approaches in which teachers feel backed in their professional and personal life when they take on additional challenges, and when they know that additional effort will be valued and publicly recognised?”