Comparative analysis of teacher policies across international education systems to understand the complex factors shaping teacher demand and supply

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Education


This project addresses the issue of teacher shortages, a pervading policy concern in many countries, with policy responses that often focus on teachers' relatively poor pay and working conditions. This is because many studies based only on the views of existing/training teachers report these factors as key (references in Case for Support). However, studies that ask non-teachers, and robust causal studies, suggest that neither monetary policies nor reduction in teachers' workload are effective in improving teacher recruitment and retention. The UK government has acknowledged that despite investments in these initiatives it has been unable to address the problem, and recommended looking for longer-term evidence-based approaches. It is therefore both urgent and important to consider a wider of range of policies, not necessarily related to pay and working conditions. Our current ESRC-funded project has identified a range of factors, such as government planning for teacher supply and the employment structure within the public sector, that can have an impact on teacher supply. These are currently rarely considered in policy responses to addressing teacher shortages.

Attempts have been made in prior studies to analyse international data to identify common and generic characteristics and education policies of successful education systems, to see what can be learnt to address the issue. These previous studies often do not consider pertinent political, cultural and economic contexts of the countries within which policies relating to teacher supply apply. Ignoring these contextual factors can lead to misleading conclusions. Previous comparative analyses also do not take account of how shortages are conceived in different education systems. For example, some countries with large class sizes report no shortages, whereas in some European countries and England, large class sizes is an indicator of a shortage of teachers. Understanding how "shortage" is defined is important as it can alter the way "shortages" are addressed and portrayed in policy and by the media. An alternative term to "shortage" could be developed to better define the issue. We will also assess the data using a common definition of shortage

The objectives of the new study are therefore to:
1. Create a step change in understanding what teacher shortages are, what they mean, how they differ over time and place, and how they can be measured.
2. Understand much better the contextual background factors (e.g. culture, politics, performance of the economy, teacher employment structure and working environment) that influence teacher demand and supply between countries that face chronic shortages of teachers and those that do not.
3. Identify key factors/context that trigger shortages or no shortages (and types of shortages). This will lead to theoretical advances in understanding how teacher supply can be managed, and provide advice to policymakers and practitioners.

To achieve these objectives, we will analyse international data (e.g. OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey and Eurydice survey) and policy documents using a multidimensional qualitative comparative approach (QCA), which examines patterns across countries but also considers the diversity of cases and their heterogeneity with regard to the relevant conditions and contexts. Further analyses will be employed to determine key factors in explaining the types of shortages (e.g. national, regional, subject-specific, oversupply long/short term).

As "teacher shortage" is defined differently in different countries, we will also analyse the data using common indicators of teacher shortages, including those used in England (such as pupil:teacher ratios, class sizes, qualifications of teachers and teacher vacancies), to see how this might change the international narrative around teacher shortage. The findings have the potential to influence future and current policy practice.


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