OECD Reports and School Culture

If you’ve read any of my blogs or listened to our webinar series “Coffee with Keith,” you have likely heard me talk about school culture a great deal. I firmly believe that if you get the culture right, all other things will follow. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a phrase originated by Peter Drucker, has been true in every organization of which I have been a part.

School Climate

A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claims “A positive school climate is one of those things that is difficult to define and measure, but everyone recognizes it when they see it. Students appreciate a school environment where bullying is unusual, where students do not feel awkward or out of place, and where establishing genuine and respectful relationships with teachers is the norm.”

PISA 2018 (Programme for International Student Assessment) shows that "school climate is closely associated with students’ sense of well-being." In schools where students always or almost always listen to what the teacher says, for example, they showed increased reading scores.

Of course, research on teacher effects on student performance is plentiful, and is again supported in this report. Students scored higher in reading when they perceived their teachers as more enthusiastic, especially when they said their teachers were interested in the subject, and students who perceived greater support from teachers scored higher in reading and in their enjoyment of reading.

Clearly, what goes on at school can have an impact not only on students’ attitudes towards learning, but on their feelings in general. PISA results found that in all 65 countries with available data, “students were more likely to express positive feelings, in general, when they reported a stronger sense of belonging at school; and in virtually all school systems, students who perceived their peers to be more cooperative were more likely to express positive feelings.”  It is no surprise that parent involvement and their support of teachers and student learning also had a positive effect on grades, attendance, and student well-being.


Bullying had a strong negative correlation to academic outcomes. Students who reported being frequently bullied scored 21 points lower in reading than students who did not. More than one in five students reported being bullied at school at least a few times a month. Most of the reported bullying was verbal or relational (others made fun of the student, the student was the object of nasty rumors, or the student was left out of things on purpose) rather than physical.

For example, “More than 10 per cent of students in 67 out of 75 countries reported that their peers made fun of them at least a few times a month; but on average across OECD countries, around 7 per cent of students reported that they got hit or pushed around by other students that often."

However, and interestingly, students in Japan and Korea, who enjoyed one of the best disciplinary climates of all PISA-participating countries (ex. they rarely skipped school, arrived late for school, and had never been bullied) were some of the most dissatisfied with their lives, at least according to their own reports. In addition, they expressed greater fear of failure, and were about twice as likely as students in other OECD countries to report that they always feel scared or sad.

As mentioned earlier, strong positive school culture is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. Our goal is to create the most supportive environment for learning because we know it is good for kids, and the research supports it.


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