Pay and Conditions - Majority of students asked to rate teachers

24th January 2014 at 00:00
Pisa finding triggers fear that feedback could influence staff pay

Nearly two-thirds of the world's 15-year-olds are taught in schools that ask them for written feedback on the performance of teachers and the quality of lessons, new evidence suggests.

The widespread use of "student voice" by secondary schools across the globe was revealed in the latest edition of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which runs the influential education study, has endorsed the idea, noting a positive correlation between school performance and formal student feedback.

The revelation comes as an influential UK thinktank is calling for student feedback to be used to help determine teachers' pay. Teaching unions warned this week that allowing students' views to influence teacher salaries would "poison" the climate of trust needed for successful schools.

"There is a complete difference between taking student voice seriously and having that feed into teacher pay decisions," said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

School questionnaires for Pisa 2012 asked principals for the first time whether they seek written feedback from students "regarding lessons, teachers or resources". The study shows that on average, across all 65 territories that participated, 65 per cent of students attend schools that seek their views.

Use of student feedback varied from 96 per cent of schools in New Zealand to 73 per cent in the UK and 13 per cent in France.

The Pisa report says that education systems and schools that use written student feedback "tend to perform better, even after accounting for the socio-economic status of students and schools". It also suggests a correlation between the use of student feedback and education systems with high levels of "equity" - where students' socio-economic background has less impact on performance.

Last year, a separate OECD report on school evaluation suggested that student feedback could form part of teacher appraisals, although it warned that it should not be used for "high-stakes accountability".

In England, however, where performance pay is being introduced for all teachers in September, thinktank Policy Exchange has recommended that student feedback be used alongside test scores and classroom observations to set teacher salary levels.

School leaders in England are being given the freedom to decide their own individual pay systems, paving the way for student opinion to help determine teacher pay for the first time.

Policy Exchange, co-founded by England's education secretary Michael Gove, also highlighted US research from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation showing that "pupil surveys of teachers were 50 per cent more strongly correlated with long-term teacher success than classroom observation scores".

John Bangs, chair of the OECD Trade Union Advisory Committee's education working group, said that teacher evaluation could "only work in a climate of trust".

"Unfortunately, in England that trust has evaporated," he said. "Performance-related pay poisons everything and generates a suspicion about how student evidence might be used."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said student feedback could be "really helpful", but added that there was "a danger that the more you link it to teacher pay, the less you learn from it".

Student feedback has already been used for high-stakes judgements on teachers in England's independent sector. In October, Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College, told newspaper The Times that the employment of his teachers was dependent on the scores they received in student appraisals.

In Sweden, the Kunskapsskolan chain of independent but state-funded schools has experimented with paying teachers according to how students rate their performance.

The Pisa study reveals that top-ranked East Asian systems are among those with the highest use of student feedback. Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea are all in the top 10 for student voice, while Hong Kong is 16th. They all ask at least 80 per cent of their students for written feedback.

Francesco Avvisati, one of the Pisa report's authors, told TES: "These systems are sometimes viewed as authoritarian, but families in these countries put a lot of pressure on schools. That's maybe why they are seeking to involve students more, because of the social pressure."

Last year, academics from Germany and Canada raised concerns about the reliability of school questionnaires used for Pisa 2009. But Mr Avvisati said the data collected from principals in 2009 and 2012 was reliable and had been "validated to high standards".

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