The School, the Teacher, or the Pupil – Which is Most Important?

News Blog readers will know that the CLAHRC WM Director takes a critical look at Hattie’s monumental overview of evidence-based education in most of our posts.[1-4] Today let’s look at a fundamental question Hattie addresses in the monograph – the question of how much of the variance in educational outcomes resides in the pupil, the teacher, or the school. Not surprisingly this has been looked at many times. It is a little like separating the components of variance in the outcome of surgery according to the patient, the surgeon, and the hospital. Hattie [5] quotes a meta-analysis by Marzano who found that the lion’s share (80%) of variance in achievement was accounted for by student level variables, the smallest share (7%) by school effects, and an intermediate share by teachers (13%). Of course, as we shall see in future blogs based on Hattie’s work, this is not the end of the story. For instance, student effects include the effect on the student of previous education – i.e. previous teachers are consolidated within the student component of variance. More important still, is the effect of parents / guardians, since this is also consolidated within students in cross-sectional studies. We will look at unravelling these factors in future news blogs. In the meantime, we can say that ineffectual teachers have a negative effect on achievement, no matter how good the school, and exceptional teachers can more than compensate for a rubbish school.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Lilford RJ. Evidence-based Education. (Or How Wrong the CLAHRC WM Director Was). NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 15 July 2016.
  2. Lilford RJ. Ask Not to Whether, But Why, Before the Bell Tolls. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 29 July 2016.
  3. Lilford RJ. Education Update. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 2 September 2016.
  4. Lilford RJ. Bring Back the University Lecture: More on Evidence-Based Teaching. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 2 September 2016.
  5. Hattie J. The Applicability of Visible Learning to Higher Education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology. 2015; 1(1): 79-91.

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