The UK demonstrates that increasing school choice and competition does not improve standards, the man responsible for the world’s most influential international education study has said.
Andreas Schleicher, deputy education director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), revealed the finding as he presented the latest edition of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) yesterday.
“My organisation [the OECD] is very strong on choice, enabling citizens to make choices, and you would expect that systems with greater choice would come out better,” he said.
“You expect competition to raise performance of the high performers and with low performers put them out of the market.
“But in fact you don’t see that correlation… Competition alone is not a predictor for better outcomes.
“The UK is a good example – it has a highly competitive school system but it is still only an average performer.”
His comments could be seen as a blow for Michael Gove, England’s education secretary, who has placed great importance on the findings of Pisa and has also promoted increased school choice as a key way of raising education standards.
This has been done in England through more academies and the introduction of state-funded free schools, partly inspired by charter schools in the US.
But Mr Schleicher’s comments also cast particular doubt on the likelihood of such schools improving results. “Our data doesn’t show much of a performance difference between public and charter and private schools once you account for social background,” he said.
He suggested that one reason for more school choice not leading to hoped-for improvements could be the way in which parents exercised their preference.
“We asked parents what is actually important for them when they choose a school,” he said. “The most important thing for parents is not the performance of the school, but what they call a safe school environment.
“That is true for privileged and disadvantaged parents. There is a quite a similar picture in most countries.”
Parents’ next most-important factor in their choice was “an active and pleasant climate in the school”, he said, followed by a “good reputation of the school”.
Of much lower importance was actual academic achievement in a school, Pisa had found.
“The basis for competition that schools compete on the basis of their results is not actually borne out by the choices that parents make, at least not according to the data from the countries here,” Mr Schleicher said.
But the Pisa parental survey did not include data from the UK. Mr Schleicher also admitted that Pisa still “hasn’t found the answer” as to why greater choice did not necessarily lead to higher standards. Parents’ attitudes were only “part of the answer”.
Read the rest of the TES' Pisa coverage at our dedicated Pisa 2012 page.