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Flexible British example may not work abroad

Many of the OECD's recommendations for improving teacher quality have already been tried or are being discussed in the UK, but may not be popular with other countries.

The report recommends better salaries for younger teachers, involving all "stakeholders" in setting pay and conditions, allowing more flexibility for entrants into teaching from other professions, increasing the number of teaching assistants and other support staff, performance-linked pay and decentralised payments.

"The OECD's emphasis on the flexible labour market is compatible with the UK reforms and system," said Fani Stylianidou of London's institute of education and co-ordinator of the Greek country report. "For other countries, the OECD report may be almost impossible to implement."

The recommendation to use performance-related pay is highly controversial in countries such as France and Germany, where teachers are civil servants and their wages are negotiated by powerful unions.

However, the UK government's initiatives have not solved all the problems.

Despite rising numbers of teacher trainees with higher academic qualifications, there are still major difficulties in staffing schools in disadvantaged areas and high turnover elsewhere. And the UK is still far too dependent on poaching quality staff from other countries.

Nonetheless, the UK's flexible employment is held up by the OECD as an example for others. "We are ahead of the game but how we are ahead and whether this is the way to be ahead is open to discussion," said Margaret Griffin, executive secretary of the International Confederation of Principals.

The system has become so flexible that too many excellent teachers are moving sideways into non-classroom-based education jobs, she said.

Guntars Cutlaks of Education International said the emphasis on employment flexibility is not necessarily a good thing. "Market-based solutions often only meet short-term needs which is inappropriate for public-service systems."

The UK's concentration on evaluating teachers has provided the Government with a huge amount of data compared to other countries to start tackling the problems and adjust its initiatives to improve teacher quality, OECD experts said.

But it has also led to unacceptable paperwork and pressure on teachers, driving many of them out of the profession.

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