There is no clear link between teachers' status in society and the performance of their students, according to a major study in 21 countries. But the level of teacher pay does make a difference to how well young people do at school, it finds.
A representative sample of 1,000 members of the public were surveyed in each country to compile the first "global teacher status index". The final rankings appear to contradict previous research, which suggested that high teacher status was the key to improving education.
Countries that have performed well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), including Finland and Japan, finished in the bottom half of the teacher status index. Greece and Turkey, in which teachers had the second and third highest status, both finished well down the latest Pisa rankings.
"There are significant differences between the status of teachers worldwide," the study, written by academics from the University of Sussex in England and the University of Malaga in Spain, concludes. "However, there is no clear correlation between teacher status as measured in the index and student outcomes in a country."
The study confirms a link between teacher pay and outcomes, and finds that "in the vast majority of countries" respondents think that teachers deserve higher wages. It shows that, on average, people in the UK believe salaries should be raised by 15 per cent. There is also support for performance-related pay for teachers, with 74 per cent of the public backing it in the UK.
The findings come after tens of thousands of teachers in England took part in strike action this week, partly in protest against the introduction of performance-related pay.
Teachers in China have by far the highest status, according to the research - on a par with doctors. Israel came bottom of the index, with Brazil, where teachers are most commonly judged as equivalent to librarians, just above it. The UK finished in 11th place, right in the middle of the rankings, although the status of the country's headteachers is higher than anywhere else.
Six years ago, a highly influential study of the world's top-performing education systems by consultancy McKinsey concluded that teacher quality was the most important factor in their success. It stressed the "importance of teacher status" in improving that quality, stating that "once teaching became a high-status profession, more talented people became teachers".
But Dr Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez, from the University of Malaga - a co- author of the new status index - told TES: "High teacher status is not the only factor in attracting the best people into the profession. The link with wages is clearer."
Questions from the poll that was used to calculate the index covered areas such as how teachers were respected in relation to other professions, their social standing and whether parents would encourage their children to be teachers. The survey also asked whether children respected their teachers, what teachers ought to be paid, and the level of trust in teachers and the education system.
Respondents in two-thirds of the countries, including the UK, judged teachers' status to be equivalent to that of social workers. In most of the European countries polled, including the UK, more people thought that students disrespected teachers than thought they respected them. The outlook was more positive in Asia, and in China three-quarters of respondents believed that students respected their teachers.
Half of parents in China said that they would encourage their children to become teachers, compared with a quarter in the UK and 8 per cent in Israel.
Andreas Schleicher, who runs Pisa for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, said that the results of the study, funded by the philanthropic arm of international schools chain Gems Education, provided the "first comparative quantification of the social status of teachers, as seen by those for whom they work".
But he added: "Some of the results are puzzling, such as ranking the status of teachers higher in educational underperformer Greece than in top-performer Finland."
Respondents were asked how much they trusted teachers to "deliver a good education" on a scale of 1 to 10. The lowest average rating was Israel at 5.19; Brazil was the highest at 7.12.
In the UK, Finland, Brazil, Spain and New Zealand, starting pay for teachers was "significantly lower" than where the public perceived it to be.
The other countries surveyed for the Varkey Gems Foundation Global Teacher Status Index were the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and the US.