BIPE Project overview

Empty desks in exams hall

Bias in teacher judgements

Last year, teachers were asked to predict students’ GCSE and A-level marks because exams could not take place due to the Covid-19 crisis. This sparked public debates about a concern that has been frequently highlighted over the last decades: teacher judgements might be biased putting students from certain groups of the population at disadvantage.

In much of the academic literature, a social or ethnic bias in teacher assessments is measured as a discrepancy between teacher assessments of student school performance and student scores on standardised ability tests that is systematically related to student socioeconomic or ethnic background.

Social or ethnic teacher bias is problematic because teachers have an important influence on students’ self-esteem, academic motivation and school achievement. Moreover, in many countries they make critical decisions about ability groupings, school tracking and grade retention. If teachers underassess the performance of certain students, they can harm their self-esteem and hinder them to achieve the education and life outcomes they could have attained through their abilities.

Research methods

The BIPE Project will use large-scale survey data to study social and ethnic biases in teacher assessments of the performance of primary school students in three countries, UK (England and Scotland), Germany and Ireland. It aims to shed light on the processes underlying the biases by understanding how national contexts such as teacher training and education systems frame teacher assessments. It will also analyse how students’ behaviour in class, academic attitudes and their parental involvement influence the teacher assessments.

An important principle of this project is the engagement of teachers, teacher educators, head teachers and primary school students to inform the study. Over the 22-month project period, the researchers and teachers, teacher educators, head teachers and primary school students will meet in focus groups to share experiences and views that will inform the study’s research design and interpretation of findings.

Evidence on teacher bias is mixed but tends to show that the performance of children from ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged backgrounds is systematically underassessed.

Teachers do not consciously underassess their students’ performance, they want the best for all of them and so the causes of ethnic and social biases in teacher assessments remain difficult to identify.

BIPE Project results

The findings of the BIPE project will show what factors primary school teachers from different countries take into account when they assess the performance of their students. This knowledge can help improve assessment approaches, student-teacher relationships and family-school interactions.

To facilitate the impact of this study on practice and education policy, the researchers will create materials for Initial Teacher Training and teacher CPD as well as recommendations for head teachers, policy makers and third-sector organisations.

Knowledge exchange activities will include workshops with teachers in South-West England and Scotland, and a stake-holder event in London and an international online teacher conference.