How much do teachers cost?

by Eric Charbonnier and Etienne Albiser
Analysts, Directorate for Education and Skills

Can increasing the salaries of teachers lead to better learning outcomes? Does reducing class size have a positive effect on learning outcomes? Given the current background of tight public budgets, governments seeking to ensure value for money must ask themselves these questions before increasing the salary cost of teacher per student, as teachers account for a major part of education expenditure.

The latest edition of Education Indicators in Focus highlights that the salary cost of teacher per student is a combination of four factors: teachers’ salary, class size, the number of teaching hours in front of a classroom and the number of hours of instruction received by students.

Countries that have similar levels of expenditure on education do not necessarily have similar educational policies and practices. A given level of expenditure may result from a different combination of these factors. One country may pay higher salaries to teachers while another may have smaller class sizes and thus more teachers to pay.

Between 2000 and 2010, increases in the salary cost of teacher per student were mainly influenced by changes in teachers’ salaries and class size
 With the exception of France and Italy, the salary cost of teacher per student at the primary and lower secondary levels increased between 2000 and 2010, and on average it increased by one-third and one-quarter, respectively (for countries for which data is available). In the majority of cases, this increase was due to an increase in the level of teacher compensation (16% at the primary level and 14% at the lower secondary level). The largest salary increases (more than 50%, in constant prices) were seen in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Turkey.

During the same period, class size decreased, by 14% (primary) and 7% (lower secondary), but this was often the result of changing demographics and not of a change in education policies.

Little change in instruction time and teaching time
With the exception of a few countries, there was little or no change with respect to the two other variables (instruction time and teaching time) during the same period. This may be due to the political sensitivity of reforms in these areas. At the primary level, teaching time increased most significantly in the Czech Republic (200 hours) and instruction time increased the most in Iceland (by nearly 200 hours).

The higher the level of education, the higher the salary cost of teacher per student, with great disparities between countries
Spending on education rises sharply with the level of education. The OECD average salary cost of teachers is USD 2 307 per primary student, USD 2 856 per lower secondary student and USD 3 301 per upper secondary student. In some countries, the differences between the different levels of education is quite small (in Chile and Hungary it is less than USD 50) while in others it is quite important (exceeding USD 2 000 in the Flemish Community in Belgium).

In general, teachers of higher levels of education earn more money than teachers at lower levels. In addition, teaching time generally decrease as the level of education increases (meaning that more teachers are necessary to teach the same number of students).

Wrapping up
Reforms relating to these four factors have an impact on education expenditure and may also affect learning outcomes. However, the link between expenditure and outcomes is not straightforward. PISA results show that between 2000-2009, the performance of 15-years olds did not vary significantly in the majority of countries, regardless of the changes we have seen in instruction time, teaching time, class size and teacher compensation. What is more, changes relating to pedagogy may have an impact on outcomes without necessarily having an impact on expenditure.

The bottom line is that in the past ten years, increasing teachers’ salaries and reducing class size have not led to better learning outcomes in the majority of countries. This raises the question: has all of the additional money been well spent?

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus:
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators:
Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2012:  Indicator B7 (

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