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Improving education: the value of good teachers

A guest blog from Will Paxton, Head of Education Advocacy and Policy at Save the Children UK

It’s a cliché, but true that we all remember our best teachers.  They inspire, change lives and are the bedrock of any good school.  Any comparison between school systems which perform well for their children and those systems which struggle, points to the central importance of who stands in front of pupils day-in-day-out.

Earlier this week, a report from the education company Pearsons, with a very useful website, comes to just this conclusion.

“Good teachers,” the paper notes, “are essential to high quality education.”

A common feature of some of the best performing school systems in the world – Finland and South Korea come out well in Pearson’s global league table of school systems – is their ability to recruit excellent teachers, to inspire their workforce and then value and recognise their successes.

Talented teachers

Exactly how each nation gets the most talented people into the teaching profession and then ensures that they successfully improve their pupils’ learning and life chances will differ from country to country, but few doubt just how central the issue is.

This is why the choice of subject for UNESCO’s 2013 Global Monitoring Report (GMR) –  Teaching and Learning for Development – is so welcome.

A consultation on the report has just been launched. No issue could be more critical in upping school quality and reversing the abysmal lack of learning which threatens to hold so many people and developing nations back.

What is more, few issues are more important in continuing to make progress on access; it seems highly likely that the poor quality of too many schools today (in large part the result of poorly trained and under-motivated teachers) is contributing to the stalled progress on moving towards achieving universal primary education.

Achieving education for all

Next years’ GMR offers the education policy community a space and platform to debate how best to improve teacher quality. Save the Children will bring lessons from our work around the world to bear on the debate. At the same time the Global Campaign for Education has chosen 2013 to focus on teaching.

Both in the UK and internationally, the coalition will be highlighting the scale of the ‘teacher gap’. The latest stats show that 1.7 million additional teachers will need to be recruited globally between now and 2015 if we are to achieve education for all.

And that’s before you get to the altogether more difficult challenge of ensuring that all these teachers are present in schools, motivated, rewarded and recognised.

In the period ahead, rightly, there looks set to be considerable debate about exactly how to measure learning outcomes but let’s not forget that just as important, and arguably more difficult, will be taking the measures that allow school systems to take a quality leap and improve learning – teaching will be front and centre in this debate.

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