An analysis carried out by Danish Technological Institute points to significant possibilities for improving the primary and lower secondary education systems of the European Union.
The study was carried out for the European Commission's DG Education and Culture. Analysing data from three international surveys of students’ skills, PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, and addressing the Member States of the European Union and the European Commission, the study formulates a series of recommendations on improved basic skills education in the EU.
The study has far-reaching implications. Key findings and recommendations include the following:
Tracking systems reinforce disparities
- Tracking systems and other forms of differentiated school systems which divide pupils into separate tracks or streams at an early age increase disparity among student performances, not the average performance.
- The socio-economic background of students affects performance more in school systems which divide pupils into separate tracks or streams at an early age. Tracking systems therefore tend to reconfirm inequality among students.
- The analysis shows that a high degree of equality in educational outcomes can be achieved without compromising the overall performance of students.
- Policy makers in countries where tracking systems and other forms of differentiation of students into separate streams are used widely (among others Austria, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia) should consider whether there are potentials in developing education systems towards more comprehensive models.
Increased diffusion among schools of students with a foreign background likely to improve performance
- The foreign background of students matters more in some countries than in others. In many countries, the academic performance of students with a foreign background is significantly weaker than that of native students, even when adjusting for differences in the socio-economic background of students.
- There are ignificant differences in the average performance of non-native students who attend schools with a high density of non-native students and non-native students who attend schools with a low density of non-native students. Policy makers should therefore consider whether enough is done to ensure diffusion of non-native students among schools.
More possibilities of bi-lingual tuition likely to improve the academic performance of foreign-background students
- There is solid evidence from research that bilingual tuition and mother tongue instruction affects the academic performances of students positively, where such instruction is relevant.
- However, in the EU only a small minority of Member States presently offer this possibility.
- Policy makers should consider to strengthen the possibilities of bilingual tuition for students who are not proficient in the dominant or official language(s) of the country concerned.
School autonomy positively related to student performance
- School autonomy is positively related to student performance. There is a clear positive relation between the degree to which schools themselves decide on budget allocations within schools and the average student performance. Responsibility for appointing teachers, responsibility for disciplinary policies and autonomy in the fields of dismissing teachers, determining course contents and deciding on the offer of courses are also positively correlated to student performance.
- Data from PISA 2003 suggest that within the EU, the school systems of Austria, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain provide schools with relatively little autonomy. Policy makers in these countries are recommended to consider increasing school autonomy in certain respects.
Some types of student assessments facilitate performance
- In PISA 2003, there is a tendency for student performance to be higher schools where teacher-developed tests are applied frequently.
- Data from PISA 2000 and TIMSS 1995 suggest that there is a positive impact of centrally set examinations on student performance.
- Analysis of data from PISA 2000 in particular suggests that external exit exams may increase the performance of autonomous schools, serving as a tool for school accountability.
Pre-schooling has positive effects on performance
- Pre-schooling is probably beneficial for later academic achievement, and policy makers should consider the increased use of pre-schooling.
- Attention should be paid to forms of pre-schooling that may strengthen the academic performance of students in the long run without affecting negatively the overall personal development of small children.