Orderly classes, good attendance, low teacher turnover and a motivational headteacher are the keys to helping disadvantaged children succeed, a new study has found.
Academics at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have looked into why some pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed while others do not.
The new analysis of data from the latest round of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) has looked into the proportion of disadvantaged students who reach the international average in reading, maths and science, a standard which Pisa describes as “level 3”.
The analysis of data from more than 50 countries, published as an OECD working paper, found the proportion of disadvantaged pupils at level 3 varies from 53 per cent in Hong Kong to less than 1 per cent in Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Kosovo, Peru and Tunisia.
The authors of Academic resilience: what schools and countries do to help disadvantaged students succeed in Pisa label disadvantaged pupils who achieve a level 3 as "resilient".
In the wealthier OECD countries, around one in four disadvantaged students is considered resilient.
The authors also looked at which countries had increased the proportion of disadvantaged 15-year-olds who were resilient.
The UK's proportion of resilient students stayed largely the same, rising from 28 per cent in 2006 to 28.2 per cent in 2015.
But researchers discovered that eight countries had done particularly well on this measure: Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
In Germany, for example, the proportion of resilient students rose from 25.2 per cent in 2006 to 32.3 per cent in 2015.
And by looking at which countries have managed to increase the proportion of resilient students between 2006 and 2015, researchers have been able to suggest what improves resilience.
Importance of school environment
They found that the school environment played a key role in mitigating the risk of low achievement among disadvantaged pupils.
“Schools in which students have the greatest chances of being resilient share some common attributes,” the report states.
“In particular, across the vast majority of education systems examined, the likelihood that disadvantaged students will be resilient is higher in schools where students report a good disciplinary climate, compared to schools with more disruptive environments.”
It added: “Attending orderly classes in which students can focus and teachers provide well-paced instruction is beneficial for all students, but particularly so for the most vulnerable students.”
And they added that there were specific policies which may help improve the disciplinary climate and so increase pupils’ resilience.
Lower turnover benefit
The researchers found that the disciplinary climate tended to be better where there was a lower teacher turnover and they cited previous research which found that teacher turnover could be reduced by rewarding collaboration between teachers and developing mentorship programmes.
The leadership style adopted by principals also had an impact on the disciplinary climate in schools. Headteachers who “work relentlessly to promote a high level of commitment among teachers towards ensuring high academic results among their students” can ensure that classrooms are orderly, the paper states.
The researchers also a link between disadvantaged students doing well and attending a school where fewer students truant.