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Teacher Rotation: China’s New National Campaign for Equity

5 September 2014 18,704 2 Comments

By 2020, about one million teachers and principals in China will be swapped between good and poor schools annually, if the nation’s new strategy for easing education inequity goes as planned. The strategy is outlined in a policy document[in Chinese] jointly issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security recently.

The policy requires no less than 10% of teachers in urban and high quality schools be reassigned to teach in rural and poor schools each year. To prevent schools from sending less qualified teachers, the policy requires at least 20% of the rotated teachers be “backbone” [high quality] teachers. The policy also requires principals and deputy principals be rotated to a different school after serving two terms in the same school. Teachers from rural schools and or poor schools will have the opportunity to fill the vacated positions urban schools and better quality schools.

The policy is the implementation of a directive issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Part last November urging local governments to rotate school leaders and teachers from high quality schools to less-privileged ones to balance education resources.  Prior to the official issuance of the national policy, over 22 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) had already developed similar policies and begun piloting similar programs.

The national policy document does not include much detail about how the rotation actually happens. It leaves the execution plan to the local governments. Existing local policies suggest that the duration of the rotation is typically two to three years for teachers and one term of service for principals. Teachers and school leaders would return to their original school afterwards, should they wish. In some cases, teachers may be transferred to another school. The rotation is among schools within the same administrative district or county. There are a variety of carrots and sticks to encourage participation, including cash bonuses, priority and or prerequisite for promotion, and housing privileges.

The plan is ambitious. Ultimately, the central government expects to systematize the practice, making teacher and leader rotation routine for all schools. It also is expected to lead a transition in the teaching profession in China by making teachers employees of the system, instead of each school.

Whether the policy will deliver the expected outcomes—more equal distribution of teaching resources and thus more equitable education—is uncertain for many reasons. Interested readers can read a report about some local experiments of the strategy in a China Daily story published in Feb before the national policy was issued.

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  • Kerron said:

    I have real concerns about this. Each school environment and community is unique. It takes leaders and teachers time to understand a school context, build relationships with the students, staff and community and unpack the distinct needs of each school. Swapping people around every 2 years does not, in my opinion, allow enough time for relationships to be developed or change/improvement measures to embed. I understand the desire to limit the variation in school capacity and outcomes but I think this strategy has serious drawbacks that are far more compelling than any potential gains..

  • Quentin said:

    I totally agree with you Kerron, this strategy is theoretically acceptable but implementation will certainly face many hurdles. How can people think that a good teacher in School A will be a good teacher in School B ? The environment has huge impact not only on students but also on teachers who may not feel comfortable in specific schools where the academic project is buil in a totally different manner. And to make sure that the teachers replaced in the rural areas will be given the positions in richer urban areas ?
    In France we face the same type of decisions, but hopefully not at higher education levels that’s why many Higher Education Institutions universities and business schools can develop expertise (check for European HEIS) in the long term, not just two or three years !

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