Teacher Development

Surprises about top performing education systems

Lucy Crehan

When qualified teacher and education explorer, Lucy Crehan, set out to better understand policy in top performing education systems around the world, like many teachers, she had some preconceptions. Finland, Canada, Singapore, Japan and China – some of the top performers in the international PISA tests – so teaching was bound to be innovative and futuristic, right?

Perhaps Lucy would find lessons completely led by students? Or classrooms without a single textbook in sight? Maybe she’d even find classes where teaching materials were made personally for each child?

In a recent webinar for The Cambridge Panel, Lucy revealed some of the surprises she encountered on her travels

1. In secondary science and mathematics teaching, most top-performing systems use ‘teacher-directed’ instruction as their primary pedagogical approach, with some ‘student-orientated’ instruction to introduce or consolidate a subject.

  • Teacher-directed – the teacher leads the lesson and chooses content, groupings and settings.
  • Student-orientated – students have control over the content of the lesson, or the way in which the content is learned, and may learn through exploration.


2. Most top-performing systems have textbooks or schemes of work designed by experienced teachers and plan lessons collaboratively. Teachers are not expected to plan lessons from scratch.

3. Most top-performing systems set the same expectations for all students and do not put children into classes or schools on the basis of ability until they are 15 or 16.

More from the top

We hear a lot about innovative education policies around the world, but Lucy’s experiences just go to show the value some traditional approaches, like the use of textbooks and teacher-directed instruction.

If you’d like to find out more about Lucy’s insights on her travels, we can highly recommend her amazing book, CleverLands.

Would you like exclusive access to fantastic webinars like Lucy’s? Become part of The Cambridge Panel today! If your application is successful, you’ll be helping us to create amazing classroom resources in return for free books, webinars and the shared experiences of 700+ teachers worldwide!