There's no `isolation' in `team', survey says

Lack of collaboration is holding teachers back, global study warns

Most teachers work "largely in isolation" and do not engage in the collaboration with colleagues that could make their teaching much more effective, a landmark international report has warned.

The Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) questioned more than 100,000 lower-secondary teachers in 34 countries. Its findings "underscore the need for a new model of teaching", the report says.

Half the teachers rarely or never "team-teach" - with England lower than average - and two-thirds hardly ever observe colleagues' lessons. "The traditional picture of a single classroom with one teacher in isolation is not good enough," says the study, which claims to represent the working lives of more than 4 million teachers from five continents.

The report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) provides a bleak snapshot of the global profession, revealing that although nine out of 10 teachers do not regret their career choice, more than two-thirds feel teachers are not valued by society. "Teachers really, really love their jobs," said the OECD's Julie Blanger as she revealed the findings in London this week. "But they feel unvalued, under-recognised and unsupported."

Nearly half the surveyed teachers say they never receive feedback from their headteacher, and more than two-thirds believe a consistently poor teacher would not be dismissed at their school.

The study - the largest of its kind in the world - also highlights looming teacher shortages, with 38 per cent of lower-secondary headteachers stating that a lack of "qualified andor well-performing teachers" is hindering their ability to provide good-quality lessons. England is worse than average, with more than 46 per cent of headteachers warning of the problem.

But Talis also offers a prescription for improving teaching. "One thing that we know from our research is that in-school relationships are very important," Ms Blanger said. "If a teacher has positive relationships with the headteacher, other teachers in the school and with their students, this helps them to be more successful in very challenging circumstances.

"Teaching alone in your classroom with the door closed is not necessarily the best strategy.The more teachers report participating in collaborative practices with their colleagues, the higher the levels of self-efficacy, confidence in their own abilities, and the same is true for job satisfaction."

In England, 41 per cent of teachers say they never teach in a team with colleagues, while a further 21 per cent say they do so only once a year or less. Just 12 per cent use the practice once a week or more. In Singapore and Japan - top performers in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) - 30 and 34 per cent respectively use team-teaching on a weekly basis. However, in South Korea, another Pisa high-flyer, the figure is just 8 per cent, suggesting that there may not be a straightforward link with good test results.

But Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International, a global umbrella group of teaching unions, agreed with the Talis conclusion that teachers work better together. "Collaboration rather than top-down, autocratic management is the key to high-quality education," he said.

Teachers' assessment of how they are regarded varies widely according to their country. In Malaysia, 84 per cent of lower secondary teachers "think the teaching profession is valued in society". In Singapore and South Korea, more than two-thirds of teachers feel valued. But the figure drops to just 5 per cent in France and Sweden and 4 per cent in Slovakia. England, at 35 per cent, is just above the average of 31 per cent.

Within schools, the lack of meaningful appraisal is revealed as a problem. "Half of teachers feel that their evaluations during work are mainly done as a box-ticking exercise and only about one-third feel their evaluation leads to any kind of career advancement," Ms Blanger said.

In England, 43 per cent of teachers say that a consistently underperforming colleague would be dismissed, higher than the Talis average of 31 per cent. Only two-fifths of teachers - in England and across the survey - believe the "best performers" in their school receive the greatest recognition.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, claimed that the performance management of teachers, now required in England, was compounding professional isolation. "I have been to a primary school where the headteacher told me, `We were doing wonderful collaborative work but I had to stop it because otherwise how could I make decisions about performance management?' " she said.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT union, said: "Teaching is essentially a collaborative profession.It is the work of the whole school, not individuals, that achieves the best outcomes for pupils."

Job satisfaction is high among teachers

Although the headline findings of Talis make for gloomy reading, teachers report high levels of job satisfaction and say they would embark on the same career path given the opportunity.

More than nine out of 10 (91 per cent) say they are satisfied with their job. In England the figure is slightly lower, at 82 per cent. Four out of five teachers in English schools say they would choose the same career again; just 8 per cent say they regret their decision.

The study also provides an insight into the demographics of teachers at English secondary schools. Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents were female, and the average teacher was aged 39, had 12 years of teaching experience and taught a class of 24 students. By contrast, the average age of a headteacher was 49, and 62 per cent of school leaders were male.

Almost all teachers studied in higher education (97 per cent) and completed a teacher training programme (92 per cent) before starting work in the classroom. A third (35 per cent) of headteachers were still teaching.

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