On 30 May, the European Commission published a communication on School development and excellent teaching for a great start in life. This document sets out the European strategy to support high quality, inclusive and future-oriented education. The Communication stems from the identification of key challenges in education: student’s difficulties to develop some basic competences, problems to promote equity and social mobility, and the need to equip young people with the skills they will need in a digital world. Creativity, critical thinking and entrepreneurial mind-set are seen as complementary to basic skills and knowledge.
The Communication establishes three main areas of action to face the above challenges: 1) raising the quality and inclusiveness of schools; 2) supporting excellence in teachers and school leaders; and 3) improving the governance of school education systems.
Raising the quality and inclusiveness of schools
Schools need to support all learners and respond to their specific needs, especially referring to gender gaps, pupils with disabilities, students that do not speak the language of instruction, and ethnic minorities. All young people should acquire the eight key competences for lifelong learning established by the European Union in 2006. Connecting lessons with real life experiences and introducing digital technologies in the classroom could enhance this learning.
Cooperation with other social actors can also lead to a more inclusive education. Education must be a shared effort of society as a whole. Cooperation between schools, local institutions, community organizations, business and universities will enrich the learning experience of young people. The involvement of the parents is also essential to tackle bullying and other forms of violence.
To increase the equity of education, the Commission highlights the importance of early childhood education and care. There is evidence of better performance at high levels of those children that have received early childhood education. However, participation in early childhood education and care remains problematic in some European countries due to participation, affordability and quality reasons.
To help states developing better and more inclusive schools the Commission commits to:
- Make the Erasmus+ programme more accessible.
- Promote the participation in the schools community eTwinning.
- Develop a self-assessment tool on digital capacity for schools.
- Promote best practices in STEM.
- Support policy experimentation on multilingual pedagogies and diverse classrooms.
- Implement education provisions for people with disabilities.
- Support member states in providing high quality early childhood education and care.
Supporting excellence in teachers and school leaders
Teachers are the heart of excellent education. However, there are staff shortages and a decline in the prestige of the profession in many countries. Governments should provide different incentives: for example, salary rises and better career prospects. This would attract better qualified candidates to the profession. Selection and recruitment processes could be improved to identify the most suitable candidates and attract professionals with different profiles.
Teachers’ education requires more attention. Countries should provide classroom practices before starting a professional career, offer special support during the early stages and develop Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for those already working.
On the teachers’ side, it is important to be open to peer collaboration and team working. Digital technologies can enhance collaborative environments and help overcame barriers to participation.
School leaders also need further support. Today, in some countries, school leadership positions are considered unattractive because school leaders do not receive the support they need. Supporting them and increasing their autonomy may have positive impacts on students’ achievements, teaching quality and staff motivation.
To support teachers and school leaders, the Commission will:
- Offer expert seminars.
- Simplify the access to teaching experiences abroad through Erasmus+.
- Develop online communities and resources for school professionals.
- Produce joint comparative data on school staff.
Improving the governance of school education systems
The Communication remarks that the effective use of the resources allocated to education – around 3% of the GPD on average – is key to settle a high quality education. With similar levels of investment in education, some countries achieve better results than others do, so it is important to learn “what works” from each other. Investment must focus on infrastructure (including digital infrastructure and connectivity) and on human capital.
A good combination of school autonomy and accountability lead to a more effective use of resources. Flexibility allows schools to adapt their financial resources to their specific needs and local context. Accountability guarantees quality.
To improve the governance of education systems, the European Commission will:
- Provide technical support to those countries that will ask for it.
- Propose a report on the effectiveness and efficiency of expenditure in school education.
- Develop targeted policy guidance.
The role of the European Commission
Along the Communication, the Commission reminds at several points that education reforms are on the hands of the member states and the European Union can only play a supportive role. Its main contribution is sharing knowledge, data and best practices between countries. In addition, it also offers financial and technical support through programmes like Erasmus+, European Structural and Investment Funds, and Structural Reforms Support Service.
The Communication states that improving schools education will require close cooperation. To boost it, the Commission will organize an Education Summit in early 2018 to trigger a discussion on the future of European cooperation in education.