That's the profile of the typical teacher in Flanders, based on information from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to provide periodic insight into teaching and learning across the continent. The intention is not to criticise the performances of teachers, administration or schools but, rather, to build a platform on which policy can be based.
The study looks specifically at those who teach the first grade of secondary school students in ordinary education, which covers 13- and 14-year-olds in the majority of schools in the region. Two hundred and sixty schools each with 20 teachers were chosen at random in Flanders (3,500 teachers in all), and the same number in countries across the OECD.
Schools in Brussels and Wallonia did not take part this time around. Not enough schools in the Netherlands responded, so their results do not figure in the survey.
Perhaps the most striking revelation is the level of qualifications of Flemish teachers compared to other countries. Fully 84% of teachers have a qualification obtained after only one year of higher education and a one-year professional teacher-training diploma.
In the rest of the countries studied, 52% of teachers have a bachelor’s degree, and 31% have a master’s degree in education. The figures for Flanders are, respectively, 4% and 8%. The number of teachers with a doctorate – 1% on average across the OECD – is in Flanders so low as to be statistically insignificant.
The teaching profession across the TALIS map is dominated by women, ranging from 57% in Spain to 85% in Lithuania. In Flanders, 69% of teachers are women – more than in Norway and Denmark, but fewer than in Poland and Hungary. However, despite that total, only 38% of school heads in Flanders are women. A similar sort of discrepancy is seen in many other countries.
Most Flemish teachers in the survey say that their educational ideology places active student learning at the centre of importance. Active learning is constructivist: the teacher is a helper in the process, with the student constructing his own learning with the teacher’s assistance. This philosophy is widespread: only in Italy did teachers describe their role as “the transmission of knowledge”.
However, in practice, that ideology is not always adhered to, says Frank Vandenbroucke. The education minister in the previous Flemish government, Vandenbroucke gave a speech reacting to the survey when it was first released early in the summer – just as schools were about to close and people’s attention began to drift elsewhere.
“Flemish teachers use mainly classic structured lesson techniques and resemble Italian teachers more than might be expected,” Vandenbroucke said. Active learning techniques, he added, are much less common here than in many other TALIS countries.
Flanders, however, boasts the smallest class sizes in the TALIS group, at only 17 students on average. Ireland has the largest, at 22 students. On the other hand, the region has the second-worst staff support for teachers within schools, with one teaching support (for example, a language assistant) for every 21 teachers (the TALIS average is 1:13) and one administrative support staff for every 12 teachers (average 1:8). Only Austria does worse.
Flemish teachers do not complain, however, of major shortages of materials, resources or even the lack of support staff. The number of Flemish teachers who perceive shortages to be a problem is significantly lower than the TALIS average.
Perhaps as a result, “Flemish teachers declare themselves happy in their jobs,” Vandenbroucke said back in June. “They have the feeling that they make a difference to their students. These findings confirm the results of other recent research: our teachers do their job willingly and well.”
Consequently, teachers tend to stick around. The length of experience of teachers in Flanders is longer than average, with well more than half having in excess of 11 years experience. Only about one in four had previous experience in another school prior to arriving in their current job. (That figure is slightly higher for teachers working part-time and markedly higher for those working less than half time.)
When it comes to school autonomy, schools in Flanders score higher than the TALIS average in most areas, except in the matter of teacher salaries, in which individual schools have no autonomy at all.
Finally, Flemish teachers fail to sparkle in the matter of professional development, an area that includes courses, seminars and the study of professional literature. While 90% of teachers reported having taken part in some form of professional development over the previous 18 months, the average amount of time spent on those endeavours was short: only eight days, a figure lower than every country but Ireland.
Teachers in Flanders rated the usefulness of their ongoing professional development lower than in any other country, giving marks as low as 43% for educational conferences and seminars, to a maximum of 72% for informal discussions with colleagues. Only 31% would have liked to spend more time on development.