How effective schools are is affected most by the incomes of families and the size of the school
A report from the Foresight Centre on the effectiveness of Estonian schools and the factors that shape it shows that the main influence on how effective schools are comes from the socio-economic background of the families of the children in the school and the size of the school.
Eneli Kindsiko of the Foresight Centre noted that the results of the research show that both small rural schools and large city schools are able to be effective. “An effective school is one where the best possible results are achieved with the inputs that are available. The analysis considers a rural school that has a high cost in monetary terms to be effective if it is able to engage socially vulnerable pupils successfully and cater for children with special educational needs”, she explained.
Researchers from EBS, Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology working to an order from the Foresight Centre and the Ministry of Education and Research studied schools in Estonia using a methodology that assesses how efficiently schools achieve results given the resources available to them and where they start from. The starting points for schools are very different, as there can be very wide differences between the sizes of Estonian schools, the number of pupils per teacher, the spending per pupil, the incomes of the families of pupils, and the share of pupils with special educational needs.
It was found that the effectiveness of schools depends very much on factors that are external to them. How effective the schools are is shaped by the knowledge and skills that pupils already have and by their parental background, and by the special educational needs of children.
Professor Kaire Põder from EBS said that the effectiveness of schools unfortunately depends on many features that the school itself cannot change. “Rural schools and those with small catchment areas are not able to choose their pupils. Neither can a school choose its own level of financing. This means the school has only limited autonomy in making improvements, and it is very much a problem of regional, social or educational policy if we are talking about schools being ineffective or inefficient”, she said.
The analysis of the effectiveness of schools found that 83% of Estonian schools were very effective in the academic year 2021/22, and 16% were effective or somewhat effective.
The report found that larger schools are more efficient, but only within certain limits, and the advantage of size disappears when the school has more than 500 pupils. This is in line with earlier scientific research that has recommended that the size of a school should be 300-400 pupils.
The socio-economic background of the families of pupils, especially the income of mothers, is also a major factor affecting educational outcomes. There are schools in Estonia where the median income of families is below 1000 euros a month, and others where the incomes of families are over 4500 euros a month. The analysis found a positive correlation between the incomes of mothers and the results of maths exams, as each additional 1000 euros a year earned by the mother improved the exam results by 0.8 point. The positive correlation between exam scores in Estonian language exams and the incomes of mothers or families was very weak though.
The report from the Foresight Centre notes that the financing logic of general education in Estonia gives quite significant compensation for issues caused by regional and educational special needs, but generally ignores the links between socio-economic background and education. The researchers say that this makes it important to answer the question in Estonia of whether the Estonian school system needs additional resources that could offset the effect of the background of pupils.
The report on the effectiveness of Estonian schools and the factors that shape it builds on the research into the effectiveness of schools and the school network that is part of the Foresight Centre’s research stream into the future for the next generation of teachers. The research was carried out by researchers from EBS, Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology working to an order from the Foresight Centre and the Ministry of Education and Research.