Why Pisa plans to ask pupils if their teachers are racist

20th May 2016 at 00:00
OECD study will also probe teenagers’ cultural understanding and knowledge of world issues

Pupils will be asked whether they think their teachers are racist under proposals for a new element of Pisa, the world’s most influential education rankings.

The question will form part of a survey designed to assess whether pupils are properly prepared for a globalised world. It is planned for the 2018 round of Pisa (the Programme for International Student Assessment).

Negative views

Under the plans, 15-year-olds completing the survey in England and scores of other countries would be asked whether their teachers:

Say negative things about people of some cultural or ethnic groups.

Have lower academic expectations of students of some cultural or ethnic groups.

Talk in a respectful way about people from all cultural and ethnic groups.

Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which runs Pisa, said that it was vital to measure pupils’ perceptions of their teacher’s attitudes to different cultures and ethnicities. “It is an important factor that shapes the students and their learning environment,” he told TES.

But the idea has received a mixed reaction from teaching unions. Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that a questionnaire was a “crude and potentially unreliable” way to explore the influence of teachers’ attitudes on students. “I’m a bit concerned about asking the students about their perception of teachers’ attitudes,” he said.

“It is important that we draw on students’ attitudes on these global issues,” Mr Trobe added. “But I would be very cautious about young people making judgements about their teachers’ attitudes.”

The proposals would also involve heads being asked to what extent their teaching staff agreed with statements such as “respecting other cultures is something that students should learn as early as possible” and “students should learn that people of different cultural origins often have a lot in common”.

Shaping learning

The questions will be just one part of a “global competency” assessment included in Pisa for the first time in 2018. It is understood that the Department for Education expects England to take part.

Mr Schleicher said: “We are looking at what students perceive to be teachers’ attitudes. We believe that perception will shape and will frame the way in which students learn about global competencies.

“For example, if you have a teacher who says, ‘The textbook says I have to teach you about the diversity of cultures, but I think it’s complete nonsense’ – in an environment like this a student is not going to engage themselves.

“But imagine a teacher who confronts them with the difficulties refugees face in England in getting integrated, and I think you probably get a very different stance from pupils.”

In the planned global competency assessment, pupils would also be asked to respond to case studies designed to give an insight into their cultural understanding, assess their knowledge of global issues and find out how they feel about different cultures.

The questionnaires would ask pupils to consider their attitudes towards people from different countries, topics such as immigration and whether they enjoyed unfamiliar food.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “I think the questions are acceptable. We are not going to find out about people’s perceptions of their teachers unless the questions are asked.

“Pupils [in England] say they have a good relationship with their teachers,” Dr Bousted added. “Teachers [are] very aware of cultural difference and the importance of cultural diversity. These questions are important – they need to be asked. I think they may make difficult reading for some countries but not for England.”

The global competency assessment (bit.ly/PisaGlobalCompetency) will be taken alongside tests in reading, maths and science.


Private school success not down to ‘social capital’, Pisa boss says

England’s elite independent school pupils “get all the great jobs” because of the character instilled by those schools rather than their social background, according to the head of the world’s most influential education rankings.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD official who runs Pisa, used England’s public schools as an example of an aspect of education that he believes the assessments should focus on in the future.

Mr Schleicher, who is considering what Pisa should be measuring by 2030, told TES that one of the questions that needed to be asked was whether character education should “remain in the margins or can we frame our instruction systems much more centrally around those qualities. That’s really what this is about.”

He added: “England is a great example. If you go to the leading private independent schools, their differentiator is not that they teach you three points more mathematics or three points more science – their differentiator is precisely on those character qualities.

“Why do those people from those schools get all the great jobs? Not because of the social capital, no. Because employers see that they bring all these leadership qualities, their curiosity, empathy – those kind of character qualities are a key ingredient of elite schools.”

But Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT teaching union, takes a different view. “It is quite straightforward,” he said. “ ‘Elite’ private schools offer children the advantages of connections and contacts that place their pupils in a privileged position where work is concerned.”

Mr Schleicher stressed that maths, science and reading would always be the foundation of education, but said that there was a growing need to think about wider skills.

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