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IOE International Instructional Systems Study

In 2015, through a grant from the NCEE, the Institute of Education (IOE) at the University of London undertook a comparative study of instructional systems across nine jurisdictions in six high-performing countries, as defined by rankings on the OECD’s 2012 PISA assessments. That study produced country profiles and a cross case analysis.

About the Study

Summary of Key Findings | Cross Case Analysis

JapaneseStudentsThe jurisdictions included in the study are Australia (New South Wales and Queensland), Canada (Alberta and Ontario), China (Hong Kong and Shanghai), Finland, Japan, and Singapore.

In addition, the study looked at two jurisdictions (Massachusetts and Florida) within the United States for comparative purposes. Massachusetts was chosen as a high-performing jurisdiction and Florida was chosen as a moderate performer based on results from the U.S. National Assessment of Education Progress.

An instructional system was defined in this study as the standards, curriculum and associated assessments of a jurisdiction. The aim was to understand what, if anything, is in common among the high performers to see if there are aspects of instructional system design that might account, in part, for high performance. This is intended as a preliminary study, relying on desk research, to provide CIEB with an overview of the data in order to identify areas for deeper inquiry.

The study focused on nine specific aspects of instructional systems:

  • The goals or aims of the education system and how these are embodied in the curriculum
  • How centralized or decentralized is management of the instructional system
  • Principles and methods of accountability and their link to instructional systems
  • What compulsory and optional subjects are included in the program of study in primary and secondary school levels
  • To what degree curriculum is organized by discipline or integrated across disciplines
  • Whether curriculum is common or differentiated
  • How 21st century skills are embedded in the curriculum
  • The clarity and content of curriculum for secondary vocational pathways
  • How assessments are created and what stakes they have and for whom


IOE profiled each jurisdiction separately and produced a cross-jurisdictional report. The profiles of each jurisdiction and the cross-jurisdictional report can all be found here.

SignaporeMathStudentsOverall, the study found that all the high performing jurisdictions promote 21st century skills, have national curriculum guidelines that allow for local interpretation but hold the standards constant, and all but one offer a comprehensive core curriculum for all students through lower secondary school. But overall instructional system patterns varied across the jurisdictions. The countries differed in the organization of instructional time and allocation of time to subject areas. Accountability systems are structured differently, with some relying on internal mechanisms and others building in results of national assessments. Differential grouping varies from early segmentation in Singapore’s upper primary years to the more typical approach of differentiation in some subject areas in upper secondary grades. Some jurisdictions use high stakes testing at intervals throughout a student’s career, and others only at the end of compulsory education. And the amount of assessment data that is shared publicly varies.

The analysis also notes that many of the characteristics that these systems have in common were beyond the scope of the study and include: support for teachers throughout their careers and policies aimed at attracting the best and the brightest to the profession; a climate of high expectations in the home environment; and a focus on continually improving and upgrading their instructional systems based on gathering evidence.

Click here to read highlights from findings relating to each of the nine aspects of instructional systems that guided this study. And click here to read country case studies.