Enormous progress has been made in raising standards in English schools in the twenty years since the passing of the great Education Reform Act of 1988, which introduced the national curriculum and national measures of accountability. Since 1997, the proportion of our 15 year-olds gaining at least ﬁve good grades at GCSE has increased by more than a third. The hard working head teachers of our 25,000 primary and secondary schools, together with their 435,000 dedicated teachers, deserve praise for their hard work in achieving this improvement. One of the reasons for this success has, of course, been additional funding. Since 1997 the core per pupil funding has risen by more than 50 per cent. We now have 36,000 more teachers and 110,000 teaching assistants in our schools, compared to ten years ago. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that every English child, whatever
his or her social background, can attend a good school, and that excellence in education is combined with equity of provision. The purpose of this book is to help achieve this great goal by highlighting the best practices in good schools, and by recommending ways to improve our low-attaining schools by the replication of best practice elsewhere. But it also seeks to address what may possibly be an even greater challenge: turning our coasting schools into high-performing schools. This chapter is also intended to serve as a guide to parents when evaluating schools for their children in which to enrol and to gain admission for their children to the schools of their choice. As I argued in an earlier book1 which I wrote with Conor Ryan, we must ﬁrst agree
on our deﬁnition of greatness before we can determine what makes a great school. Success in examination results is clearly one indicator, but is not the only one. The Oxford English Dictionary deﬁnes education as the giving of intellectual, moral and social instruction. Perhaps G. K. Chesterton put it more attractively when he wrote ‘Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.’ Or, we could put if more simply: good schools produce good citizens. Certainly, good schools should also teach good values. Schools cannot be value-free zones. Sometimes the debate about education creates false dichotomies. Some argue that
education is about the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake. Certainly there is much to be said for broadening the mind and awakening creative impulses. But it would be naïve to suggest that education is not also an economic imperative. The needs of a highly competitive global economy require all our young people to be challenged to
perform to the maximum of their potential. Sir Digby Jones, currently a UK trade minister, said when he was director general of the Confederation of British Industry, that 80 per cent of the jobs in the UK economy would soon require ﬁve or more GCSEs, including maths and English, or their vocational equivalent.2 An equally persuasive case was made by Lord Leitch in his seminal 2006 report on skills.3 The prime minister, the Rt Hon. Gordon Brown MP, said in a speech in June 2008 to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust that:
today, here in Britain we have six million unskilled workers. By 2020, as a result of the changes in the global economy, we will need only half a million. Today we have nine million skilled workers. By 2020 we will need fourteen million.