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An improved school system can be one of this Government's legacies
25/11/2010 09:44:00


Yesterday, the Government published a White Paper setting out its plans to improve our school system.

It is an excellent document. If you have the time, you can read it here.

One of the best things about it is that, alongside it, the Government has published the evidence from abroad that supports the changes that the Government is proposing.

The first and key lesson from those countries with the most successful school systems is the importance of teaching (hence the White Paper is called The Importance of Teaching). The most successful countries are those where teaching has the highest status. Teaching standards have undoubtedly improved in recent years but we can do better still so there are proposals to raise the quality of new recruits, improve teacher training with more time spent in the classroom, offer teachers better ongoing professional development and give heads more power to reward good teachers and address under-performance.

One of the things that puts people off going into teaching and leads to some people leaving the profession is concern about pupil behaviour. So there are measures to give teachers more authority in the classroom and protection from malicious allegations.

Another lesson from abroad is that we can reduce the vast gap in attainment between the richest and the poorest. Just 40 of the 85,000 children who qualified for free school meals got into Oxford or Cambridge last year, fewer than from Eton. That is a national scandal. Whilst more money on its own isn't the answer, the evidence does - as you would expect - show that more resources make a difference so the Government has found an extra £2.5 billion to support the poorest pupils and the schools budget as a whole has been protected from cuts.

Another lesson from the countries with the best systems is the benefit of giving schools autonomy but people the information they need to hold schools to account. The Government is giving all schools more freedom by simplifying Ofsted inspections and making the National Curriculum less prescriptive about how subjects should be taught. It is also encouraging schools to become independent of their local council via academy status if they wish to do so. And it is going to give people more information about how much money each school receives and how it is performing.

But the final lesson is that high expectations raise standards. So the Government is introducing a floor standard for primary schools, raising the floor standard for secondary schools (from 30% of pupils achieving 5A*-C GCSEs to 35%), reviewing the National Curriculum to make sure it compares with the world's best, ensuring that our exams do the same and encouraging pupils to take more core academic subjects.

We suffer from a poverty of aspiration in this country. Too many people - including Labour's spokesman Andy Burnham judging by his remarks yesterday - assume that many children aren't capable of getting 5 good GCSEs in academic subjects. In my experience, young people are capable of much more than we imagine. And they need these qualifications. A generation ago, you could leave school with few or no qualifications and there was plentiful supply of low-skilled work. Globalisation means that isn't the case any more.

We need to raise our game to match the best in the world and yesterday's White Paper was a big step in the right direction. If Michael Gove gets this right, school improvement could be one of the legacies of this Government.

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Gavin Barwell, 133 Wickham Road, CR0 8TE, Tel  020 8663 8741      © Gavin Barwell  2019       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG