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UK head teachers are top of their class for status, Sussex study finds

School heads in the UK enjoy higher social standing than their equivalents in more than 20 other countries, according to a new University of Sussex-led study. 

The Global Teacher Status Index, authored by Sussex economist Professor Peter Dolton and published today (03 Oct 2013) by the Varkey GEMS foundation, is the first comprehensive attempt to compare attitudes towards teachers in different countries. 

The study, based on in-depth opinion polling in Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal,Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK and the United States, also found that secondary school teachers are more respected in the UK than in every other European country polled.

Interpreting the results, Professor Dolton says:“In the UK we have moved in the last few years to see head teachers become agents of change, or ‘superheads’, where the onus is very much on the person at the top to turn around a school and inspire change.  Head teachers in other countries are often seen as senior administrators rather than leaders in education.”

The status of teachers in each country was determined by asking people to rank their standing against other professions, such as doctors, social workers and librarians, and a ranking of how much respect respondents felt that pupils had in their country for teachers. Britons are most likely to compare teachers to nurses and social workers. Just five per cent of British respondents compared the status of teachers to that of doctors.

The researchers found that teachers have the highest status in China, where three quarters of those polled believed that students respected teachers, while Israel’s teachers had the lowest status. 

People in the UK have relatively high faith in their education system, giving it a score of six out of ten - a higher score than other European countries, apart from the Netherlands, give to their own education systems. Respondents in the UK show a greater trust in their education system than in their teachers.

Professor Dolton says: “We find that there are major differences across countries in the way teachers are perceived by the public. This informs who decides to become a teacher in each country, how they are respected and how they are financially rewarded. Ultimately, this affects the kind of job they do in teaching our children.”

Notes for editors

  • The Varkey GEMS Foundation is the not-for-profit philanthropic arm of GEMS Education, established to improve the standards of education for underprivileged children. For press enquiries contact or call 00 (44) 787 9423341
  • The Global Teacher Status Index was written by Professor Peter Dolton and Dr Oscar Marcenaro-Gutierrez with Sunny Varkey, Vikas Pota, Marc Boxser and Ash Pajpani 
  • University of Sussex Press Office: Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, email:  Tel: 01273 678888

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 3 October 2013