English schools could improve their low position in international league tables in Reading and Mathematics and become one of the top five education performers in the world within 10 years if the performance of the country’s least effective teachers was brought up to the national average according to new research published today by the Sutton Trust.

The review of evidence, undertaken by leading education economists at the London School of Economics and Stanford University, reveals that for poor pupils in particular the difference between having a highly effective teacher and a poorly performing teacher is a whole year’s learning.

The report proposes major reforms to the performance and pay system for teachers, with assessment based on three core factors: improvement in results in the classroom, reviews by headteachers, and external appraisals. Other factors such as previous qualifications, previous experience, or years spent teaching should be given far less importance.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Two thirds of school budgets are for the costs of teachers and the achievement of pupils is largely determined by the quality of teachers.  So the single most important way to improve the UK’s international performance is to improve the quality of its 400,000 or so teachers.  We believe that this can be achieved by giving teachers the right support, training and incentives and it is absolutely essential that this be carried forward.”

The researchers (Richard Murphy and Stephen Machin from the LSE and Eric Hanushek from Stanford) conclude:  “Bringing the lowest-performing 10% of teachers in the UK up to the average would greatly boost attainment and lead to a sharp improvement in the UK’s international ranking.  In five years the UK’s rank amongst OECD countries could improve from 21st in Reading to as high as 7th, and from 22nd in Maths to as high as 12th. Over 10 years (the period a child is in the school system before the PISA examinations) the UK would improve its position to as high as 3rd in Reading and 5th in Maths.”

Combining new findings with an international review of research, they found: “The effect of having a very effective teacher as opposed to an average teacher is the same as the effect of reducing class size by ten students in Year 5 (ages 9-10) and thirteen or more students in Year 6 (ages 10-11). One year with a very effective teacher adds 25-45% of an average school year to a pupil’s maths score performance. The effects of high quality teaching are especially large for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who gain an extra year’s worth of learning under very effective teachers compared to poorly performing teachers.”

The report calls for:

  • Major reforms on teachers’ pay based on classroom results, headteacher reviews and external appraisals rather than teachers’ own previous qualifications and experience.
  • A new fast-track graduate entry route to be piloted in disadvantaged schools using newly created summer schools or the new cadre of teaching schools. Fast-track teachers would receive a £5,000 bonus provided they taught in schools in poor areas.
  • Making teaching more attractive for talented graduates by allowing them to opt into a system of higher pay and faster promotion based on performance.
  • Headteachers to submit annual reports to governors detailing the performance and the professional development of their teachers under a new performance and pay system for all teachers.

Notes for Editors

The interim report Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK was produced by Richard Murphy in conjunction with Stephen Machin, based at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, with advice from Eric Hanushek, based at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in the United States. During the next stage of the project the Sutton Trust will seek feedback from experts and teachers to develop these further.

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