The Cambridge Approach to Comparability

The Cambridge Approach to Comparability

Qualification reform in England has encouraged us to bring together the various strands of our research on international comparability. 

The Cambridge Approach to Comparative Evidence from Other Jurisdictions is an over-arching paper laying out the methodology used in a series of mapping exercises we undertook together with a discussion of some of the limitations of the international comparative approach. 

We believe that it is beneficial to study the education systems of other jurisdictions in order to evaluate alternate approaches, and to explore innovative ideas. Cambridge Assessment feels that open-mindedness and a willingness to learn lessons from other jurisdictions’ experiences may benefit the UK in the long term. 

However, it is important to temper enthusiasm for alternative systems’ successes with a realistic appraisal of the similarities and differences of their system, their culture and the dynamics at play in their schools. 

We have found that a layered approach to mapping exercises incorporating system-level, curriculum-level and assessment-level information provides our subject experts with more effective tools. Our mapping exercises carried out on more than 20 jurisdictions across three subjects (English, Mathematics and Science) have enabled our subject experts’ thinking about GCSE development to be informed by educational practices in selected jurisdictions worldwide. 

Our paper Cultural and Societal Factors in High-performing Jurisdictions notes that the success of any education system will be a result of a complex interaction of different factors. It explores the context within which education takes place, with a focus on six jurisdictions whose students perform highly in international tests. 

Considering the systems of high performing jurisdictions has become a strategy of some interest during education reform. However, societal and cultural features need to be considered as the system of one jurisdiction will not necessarily transfer its educational benefits if simply replicated in another jurisdiction. 

Our work focused on jurisdictions whose students perform highly in international tests, namely Alberta, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Victoria and New Zealand. 

Identifying commonalities between high performing jurisdictions suggested that the factors below could be amongst the reasons for their success: 

  • Status of teaching as a profession / quality of teaching / teacher professional development
  • Cultural attitudes that highly value education, learning and hard work
  • Parental involvement in education / parental expectations
  • Respect for authority and for the knowledge of teachers and parents
  • An exam-driven culture, but with moves towards 21st Century learning
  • Educating the ‘whole student’
  • Involvement of teachers in policy making / teacher and school autonomy
  • Cohort size
  • Spending

It should be noted that the success of any education system will be a result of a complex interaction of different factors so it would be unwise to assume simple causality when interpreting this list. 

A Guide to Comparability Terminology and Methods seeks to provide non-technical readers with an introduction to the terminology and issues which surround comparability. 

Related materials

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