It is not easy to keep adolescents motivated and engaged in school, when they have new interests and are going through important physical and social changes. Yet this is what lower secondary education needs to do. This level of education is when students need to consolidate the skills from primary education that allow them to continue either to academic or vocational education. It is also when the process of disengaging and dropping out can start if students are not well supported.
But across OECD countries, there is still not much evidence on what really works: How can lower secondary succeed in raising student skills and in preventing drop out? How should teachers be best prepared to teach adolescent students? How can schools ensure that students are engaged and motivated? Should lower secondary be provided in separate schools or remain with primary or with upper secondary education?
These are the questions Norway was looking into when we started working hand in hand with them to support their reform. The new report Improving Lower Secondary Education in Norway presents analysis and recommendations focused on improving teaching practice, making schools effectively respond to adolescent needs, ensuring smooth transitions from primary and into upper secondary – all in a framework of ensuring implementation in a decentralised environment.
But a vital aspect of our work with Norway has also been our continuous consultation with key stakeholders to ensure their engagement in the policy implementation process.
We started piloting this innovative approach towards improving schools in Mexico and have consolidated it with Norway. The external OECD analysis and the engaged consultation between OECD and stakeholders leads to greater take up later when the reform is to be implemented. This process is greatly enhanced with participation in the OECD Seminar for Leaders in Education Improvement. For Norway, this tailored seminar combined a 4 day visit to the Ontario school system with high calibre speakers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and team work among participants.
It was challenging for us to organise: we had to find an education system that was relevant to Norway’s key challenges and had valuable policy lessons. Ontario was an excellent model. We then worked with Harvard Graduate School of Education professors and with a local partner (the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)) to shape and deliver the Seminar.
Participants worked hard every day and finished the Seminar with the initial design of an action plan for their lower secondary reform. They pointed as most valuable:
- the possibility to learn from another education system by actually visiting schools and meeting policy makers;
- the opportunity for a group representing the different policy levels in Norway to meet away to from the daily pressures with time to think through together on the actions, priorities and processes needed to make reform happen.
From our experience with Mexico and Norway, the improving schools process, which includes analysis, recommendations and consultation, is often “transformational” for participants. The long term impact is important: looking and reflecting together as a team can ensure that joint ownership is developed on the policy reform. In Norway, the report Improving Lower Secondary Education in Norway and the OECD Seminar have contributed to the implementation of a reform that by targeting lower secondary, will contribute to improve overall student achievement. We are proud of the results.
More information on the review methodology is available on our site: www.oecd.org/edu/improvingschools