Education Priorities for a Passionate PM

A Memorandum prepared by the New Visions Group suggesting educational policies the Prime Minister and his new Government should adopt and changes in policy he should consider.

Dear Prime Minister

We write as a group of practitioners and academics keenly interested in and committed to education and deeply involved in current research with (for example) the Nuffield 14-19 Review and the Esmee Fairbairn Primary Review, both led by our members.

We welcome in broad terms the wave of educational reform and development under this government and we share your passion for education. Much has been achieved since 1997. You need no reminding, indeed should take credit for, the positive changes in educational outcomes, participation and the quality of provision. Building Schools for the Future promises more public capital expenditure than we have seen for a generation, and better targeting and substantial increases in current and long-term funding have secured real improvements.. Extended education and day care for under fives, a clearer focus on initiating and spreading good primary practice in literacy and numeracy, the expansion of participation in higher education and bespoke programmes such as Excellence in Cities and the London Challenge have all been widely welcomed.

Yet real concerns remain, and the government’s unaccountable reversal of its original emphasis on ‘standards not structures’ has created a focus on school structure issues that has been ineffective and wasteful. It has echoed, in its emphasis on status and market share, the failed policies of the previous government; it has abandoned the promise of a collective educational crusade embracing curriculum reform, higher standards and school improvement for all.

Two overriding doubts predominate. Why is it that headteachers and school staff are at best not in better heart and, at worst, they say, unhappy with what is happening? And how is it that the lot of the most challenged children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds has so seldom been improved?

The challenge to create and sustain a stable and high quality teaching force is not easy, and many countries face it. There is however robust evidence that the decisions to become a teacher and to stay in teaching depend on how teachers perceive they are valued. Government has a mixed record in this respect. Teachers have come to believe that they are seen as part of the problem, rather than the solution to raising standards. A government committed to education needs the commitment of its teachers.

Nor have we yet found the right balance in decision-making as between the individual school or educational institution and the wider local, regional or national level. As with the Health Service, there is a general perception that there is too much and too changeable micro-management from the centre. There are real concerns about governance at all three levels, and we set out below some proposals on this.

There are also concerns about the narrow focus of the national curriculum, the malign effects of excessive testing, the danger signals visible in both 14 – 19 reform and Early Years provision, and these too we discuss in the sections that follow.

The most important question, however, is how we can collectively crack the chronically repeating cycle of disadvantage. Here there need to be radical changes in school funding to recognise and reward those schools providing, and providing successfully, for those youngsters who arrive with lower prior attainment and/or other barriers to their successful learning.

Here especially there is a real need to mitigate the undesirable effects of the market in schooling. That means reviewing arrangements for school admissions as well as for funding, and changing the present classification of schools in league tables, which is so damaging to the pupils, many already disadvantaged, who find themselves in the schools ranked lowest. Far better, we think, would be a system which provided schools and parents with a star ranking for the extent to which they are successful in, for example, pupil attainment, sport, the arts, citizenship and the encouragement of social cohesion. A long-term strategy is needed, gradually to shift the importance given to the first in favour of these other areas of achievement. Again, we outline our thinking below.

Closing the Gap

We share government’s recognition of the importance of closing the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged of our pupils and the rest. We therefore welcome steps that have already been taken to achieve this and some of the proposals in ‘Building on Progress’. We also recognise that, as well as ensuring that all young people leave school able to contribute to society, schools can and must contribute to social cohesion.

We fear though that current policies and proposals may be insufficient or inappropriate to meet these challenges. As the Joseph Rowntree report, Tackling low educational achievement (June 2007) makes clear, diversity of school provision, combined with an extension of ‘choice’, will not of itself close the attainment gap. There is overwhelming evidence that the schools that achieve the most for all their pupils are those that have, in card players’ terms, a ‘reasonable hand to play’: a balanced intake, a fair share of quality staff, motivated children and supportive parents, good buildings, capable leadership and adequate financial resources. Competition and choice, increased by Academies in their present form, faith schools and selective schools, militate against this, potentially exacerbating differences and simply reordering local ‘pecking orders’ of schools. They contribute little to our over-riding objective, which is to ensure that all schools in all communities prosper.

And the recent instruction to Local Authorities to address, if necessary by closure, the problem of primary schools in special measures is likely to compound the damage. It risks removing schools altogether from the very communities that most need them.

Two key levers of our present system are finance and performance tables. In our view, both could be used to help close the gap. ‘Building on Progress’ offers the promise of incentives to schools with innovative approaches to helping the disadvantaged and rewards to schools that help most pupils. We welcome this. Real incentives and real rewards could prove powerful instruments for improvement.

We therefore propose that there should be a kitemark for Inclusive Schools, determined by reference (for example) to exclusion rates, the progress of vulnerable groups and pupils with Special Educational Needs. Only schools that hold this kitemark should be eligible for major grants from the personalised learning budget or its successor. In this way, ‘strong financial incentives’ can be clearly used to deliver better outcomes.

On the same basis, we support the efforts of the DfES to persuade School Forums to increase the funding differentials between advantaged and disadvantaged schools. To achieve this, the Forums should be required to reduce schools’ cumulative rollovers so as to fund additional spending on disadvantaged pupils, without taking funds from all schools. Similarly, we urge that further consideration should be given to the provision of additional financial resource allocated directly to pupils who have achieved below the expected levels at the age of 11. Such measures build on recent practice and policy and will help significantly in closing the gap.

We are encouraged that league tables will be modified to show measures of individual pupil progress. But will such progress measures take account of the relatively slower progress that pupils with lower levels of achievement are likely to make? If they don’t, their effect will be to further discourage schools from investing in those most in need of support. If ‘raw score’ tables are still continued, the effect will be doubly perverse: the press (and parental preference) will simply ignore the progress measures.

Giving recognition and equivalence to qualifications other than GCSE and A level remains critical. Otherwise we risk reinforcing further the academic/vocational divide, while diminishing the value of courses that recognise and reward the skills and qualities that employers are seeking.

In any case, we urge the introduction of area-wide performance and progress tables, and area-wide school inspections. Such tables and inspections would encourage collaboration, and ensure that schools recognise their responsibilities for all the children and young people in their area. In turn, there will be incentives for them to work with their Local Authorities to identify strategies to improve outcomes for the whole community or area.

And if we are to achieve more for the most disadvantaged, we must ensure that services continue to join up and that schools are supported by other services and look to work with them. As we argue below, schools are not islands but integral parts of their communities. Working together, youth and other services will foster a culture of expectations among adolescents and in communities and adolescent peer groups, and a shared determination to help those most in need. It follows that we applaud the recent provision of opportunities for young people to be decision-makers, and hence to develop as citizens. The Youth Opportunities Fund has been a success to date, and we urge Government to build upon it. In this way funding could be provided to promote sporting and cultural activities that would re-engage young people and enrich out-of-school activities.

So we support much of the direction of travel of policy. We believe though that the assumption that competition and diversity necessarily raises standards for all is unproven; that it risks increasing rather than closing the gap. Our aim, like yours, is to make all schools into good schools, and give to all children – especially the disadvantaged – the very best education.

The Early Years

There has been an unprecedented level of investment in services for young children and their families, with a welcome recognition of the vital importance of the first five years of children’s lives, the potential of early support and intervention, the key role of parents, and the need for additional childcare as part of the anti-poverty strategy. Early childhood services have expanded and have provided the model for the broader Every Child Matters agenda. The priority now must be to improve the quality of services, particularly the development of a well trained and adequately paid workforce.

The longitudinal EPPE study (1996 – 2008) confirms that children who attended high quality preschools employing trained early years teachers still show higher reading and maths scores at age 10 than those who stayed at home or who attended low quality preschools. This is particularly true of the most disadvantaged children. Children who attended a lower quality pre-school no longer show cognitive benefits by year 5. The quality of the early years’ home learning environment and parental (especially maternal) qualification levels continue to be significant.

So we welcome the expansion of nursery education and of day care places to meet the needs of working parents, the introduction of Sure Start local programmes in the most deprived local communities, and the expansion of Sure Start into a network of children’s centres, integrating education, care and health, and advice and support for parents. We welcome too the introduction of the new Early Years Foundation Stage, based on key principles for children’s development and learning.

The Foundation Stage offers the potential for the integration of care and education for all children from the first few months of life to the end of their reception year, and the integration of responsibility for these services within the DfES and children’s services of local authorities should facilitate this. As yet, however, we are some way short of this ideal. The current market approach and the separation of the Foundation Stage from Key Stage 1 are leading not to continuity but to further fragmentation. What is needed is a real integration of what is currently called ‘child care’ or ‘day care’ and early education, so that all early years settings (primary schools, nursery schools, children’s centres, private and voluntary sector nurseries and childminders) come into the ambit of the Foundation Stage. Similarly, there should be greater continuity between this stage and Key Stage 1. Many reception classes are not appropriate for four year olds: early years provision is needed in every primary school.

Quality is all important. The EPPE research is unequivocal that good outcomes for children, and particularly the disadvantaged, are directly related to the quality of their early years provision and teaching. The current expansion is mainly in the private and voluntary sector, where low levels of funding can lead to low quality and poorly paid staff. Few of these staff have Qualified Teacher status, and those who do are often on temporary contracts because of uncertain funding. Most of those working in the early years are qualified only to level 3 or below. The new Early Years Professional (EYP) is a step in the right direction, but it lacks equivalence with QTS in pay and conditions and is not yet the incentive that it ought to be. .

Adequate funding is essential, too. Children’s centres are important in building community capacity and raising parental aspirations, and the ideal of a children’s centre in every community is to be applauded. Neighbourhood Nurseries have successfully reached some of the most disadvantaged families. But sustainability is critical, and current funding permits neither the development of a quality service nor the resources needed to reach scattered communities in rural areas. To employ well trained staff, private and voluntary providers need to be properly funded, and not dependent on parental purchase. For the disadvantaged parent especially, the current system is not fit for purpose.

For that reason, we look for increased funding for early years provision, including children’s centres, so as to make them accessible to low-income families, and ensure their sustainability in the longer term.

The OECD report Starting Strong II (OECD 2006) supports these observations. Drawing on early childhood services in 20 countries it proposes ten policy areas for governments. Among those most relevant to Britain are the need for a common funding system, moving towards 1% of GDP by 2012 (current expenditure is at 0.5%); a well trained and well paid workforce; appropriate quality improvement systems; and greater coherence between the early years and school systems.

So much of the vision for the early years is good and much has been achieved. But if the quality of provision is poor and sustainability is at risk, children, and particularly disadvantaged children, will not benefit. If we are serious about changing the nature of children’s lives and inequalities in society and about improving outcomes for children the best start is to enable children to access high quality provision, staffed by well trained early years teachers, and with appropriate support for their parents.

A Framework for Learning

We believe that the government needs to further strengthen its role in determining a general curricular framework. Such a framework will aim not only to ensure productivity gains and social mobility, but also to integrate with these concerns the values that are crucial to, and arise from, participatory democracy. It will enable individual citizens to develop the knowledge, capabilities and skills to lead fulfilled lives and to help others to do so. It will help them to understand how things came to be as they are, and to question received wisdom in seeking improvement and responding to change.

It should have three broad dimensions: international; national and local. Each must be equally valued; no one area should be allowed to override the other two, and what happens to be testable and tested should not be allowed to diminish the rest. Throughout, it should reflect an informed understanding of what is manageable in the realities of schools, classrooms and time available for teaching and learning.

The present curriculum has been shaped since 1988 by a national perspective that appears, in a world where global possibilities and problems influence us at every level, increasingly parochial. This needs to change. We believe that the government should set up an independent working group, international in outlook and membership, to advise on the new framework’s international element, and on how, in cooperation with existing intergovernmental agencies, greater international involvement and transnational agreement might be fostered.

By definition, the local element of the curriculum will vary from region to region. We therefore propose that this element should be agreed by groups of schools, subject to the approval and oversight of a local Standing Advisory Committee on the Curriculum (with characteristics of the SACRE and of Schools Forums) which the local authority should be required to convene and service. The committee’s composition should reflect the various interested parties in its local community. Each SAC should have the further responsibility of encouraging cooperation between the schools in its area on curricular matters, out-of-school activities and the sharing of scarce teaching resources. Government’s strategic role could be fulfilled through the establishment of independent agencies capable of evaluating and communicating best practice between education professionals, supporting the flow of information about what works, helping schools and groups of schools to make informed choices, and encouraging curriculum innovation.

While strengthening its role in the development of the general curriculum framework, the government should continue the process of devolving control of curriculum specifics to schools themselves, best placed as they are to judge what makes most sense locally, and what works best. And crucially, the government should step back from its attempts to micro-manage teaching and learning. While it is proper that government should have ways and means of calling schools to account, it must always encourage teachers to exercise their professional judgement and expertise in seeking the outcomes that are agreed. The current over-emphasis on targets, testing, box-ticking and examinations dominates the work and thinking of schools and teachers. It limits what our teachers are capable of, and seriously reduces the aspirations and the range of achievements of pupils and students.

It is critical that the accountability measures cease to rely on the current form of high stakes assessment. This has had perverse effects. It has narrowed the curriculum (both across and within subjects), and narrowed teachers’ focus towards the coaching of a small group of borderline students; it has created negativity and boredom among both teachers and students. A valid alternative would be to sample (with little prior warning) only a small part of the curriculum in each student’s assessment. This would still provide accountability and it would permit the moderation of teachers’ own assessments. It would also allow a greater variety of assessment methods to be used, and greater use of formative assessment, known to have a positive effect on teaching and learning. The 2006 IPPR report Assessment and Testing: Making space for teaching and learning provides more details.

We support proposals (Making Good Progress DfES 2007) to help pupils advance through the curriculum at their best rate, and for the possible removal of Key Stage tests. Currently, the frequency of testing remains a matter of concern and there is a real danger that this may create even more pressure on teachers and pupils to move on to the next test. We recommend that consideration be given to reducing the overall burden of testing on children and young people by the removal of some or all of Key Stage 1 tests, Key Stage 3 tests and A/S levels in Year 12. Much could be gained by studying how these changes are being addressed in Wales and the other devolved administrations. Without this, the curriculum will narrow, and ‘teaching to the test’ will spread from Years 2 and 6, adversely affecting every year of schooling. Continued teacher assessment, carefully moderated, is needed to reduce this pressure.

14 to 19: a Critical Phase

The government has paid particular attention to the phase of education which begins at age of 14, introducing reforms designed to raise all-round attainment, include all young people in some form of education and training, and secure improved and economically relevant outcomes from it. The government’s achievements in this area have not always received the recognition they deserve. As we have noted, Building Schools for the Future has seen a huge investment in the infrastructure of schools and colleges. Partnerships among schools, between schools and colleges and between these and private training providers, employers and higher education have been encouraged; a statutory entitlement to a broader curriculum that includes applied and practical learning has been defined. Opportunities to benefit from higher education have been enhanced; we have seen the beginning of a National Qualifications Framework.

There are some deep seated problems, though, that need to be addressed if the government’s objectives are to be achieved. Institutional collaboration is one. It is essential, but there is damaging tension between the promotion of partnership among the different providers of education and training and the encouragement in practice (through different admission arrangements, different funding streams, the creation of uneconomic sixth forms, the pressures of accountability) of competition between them. Excellent examples of partnerships exist, but government initiatives too often militate against them.

The proposal to extend the age of participation to 18 has much merit, but unless close attention is paid to the interlocking issues of curriculum, teaching and locality it will prove very difficult to secure genuine access to qualifications for all young people, including those who have become disaffected with their schooling.

And despite the high costs of efforts to improve them, participation rates post 16 have only slightly increased. As the age cohort declines and low-skilled employment increases they may well regress. We need to link vocational qualifications more closely to local and regional employment needs, develop good quality work-based learning, and make high quality apprenticeships more attractive – even if this conflicts with the higher education participation target.

There are issues also with the quality of learning. Standards are too often narrowly defined in terms of written outcomes and testing, neglecting many other relevant achievements, especially non-cognitive and practical modes of learning. The provision and resourcing of more practical and creative (not necessarily vocational) learning would both raise standards and encourage more young people to remain in education or training. Employers should be doing more to support this sort of provision. The integration of key skills into the curriculum would help, but in practice they are limited to the pre-16 age range and they are much too narrowly defined.

Assessment is a problem, too. It should serve both to help learning and to make schools and colleges more accountable. In practice, there is tension between these functions. There should be a reappraisal of the enormous amount of testing that takes place between the ages of 14 and 16, to find out how far assessment for accountability (leading often to ‘teaching to the test’) obstructs assessment for learning.

And there is a critical problem with qualifications. A more comprehensive system of education and training 14-19 demands a changed framework of qualifications, and there has been some movement in this direction. There is a grave danger though that the new qualifications (especially the Diplomas which start in 2008) will in practice reinforce the traditional and damaging division between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ routes. There is danger, too, that the new qualification will not have credibility with employers and higher education. Ad hoc testing by universities, outside the National Qualifications Framework, compounds this risk. As different and disconnected initiatives come forward it becomes ever more urgent to review the recommendations of the Tomlinson Report and to examine how far English developments tally with those of our European partners.

And there are still unnecessary barriers to education and training post 14. Young people with learning difficulties and disabilities are ill-served by inflexible and narrow standards, inappropriate national targets and assessments, and inadequate provision; in some curriculum areas, gender stratification disadvantages both young women and the areas in which they might otherwise be employed. Here again, employers have an important role to play, but they need clear guidelines and incentives. We look to you to help resolve these problems.

It is teachers, though, who have the major role to play in the improvement of learning and the widening of participation. They cannot provide the service we need unless they are given the opportunity, encouragement and professional development to respond appropriately to the learning needs of young people. That means that teachers must be seen as curriculum developers rather than curriculum deliverers, and given freedom to take initiative rather than being hide-bound by detailed central prescription. They will need new skills, too. The practical and occupationally oriented forms of learning that we call for will require teachers with the relevant capabilities and experience – an issue not yet being addressed with the urgency that is needed.

A Framework for Governance

We have already noted that the marketisation of education, reinforced by managerialist strategies and much greater diversity of provision, has become a particular feature of the national education agenda. Diversity of provision has strengthened institutional independence but in the public realm it has weakened collaborative initiative and accountability. This, and the significant role played by the private sector in public service provision, leads us to conclude that a new ethos and new arrangements for the public domain should be developed.

What is needed is a Code which will cover probity, improvement in quality, accountability and community well-being, will apply to all public education providers and will bring trust, foundation and academy schools within a democratic and locally accountable framework. Under such a Code all publicly funded education providers would be bound by a duty to collaborate with others wherever, in doing so, the life chances of learners would be improved.

We also need to pay regard to, and begin to tackle, the factors that link academic and social stratification. Children, young people and their families belong to a community first; only briefly are they members of schools or training institutions. We need to discover and energise ways in which communities, both as citizens and consumers, can be effective in the development of local education provision and can be able to hold institutions accountable to them.

So we argue that greater social inclusion and the tackling of disadvantage are best achieved through collaborative and co-operative strategies between providers serving a local community and that it is through a comprehensive grouping of inter-independent institutions that the needs of the learner are maximised. We envisage a new ‘politics of place’, within which those who are involved in the local governance of education, including governors, are required to work together,. The current boundaries between individual school oversight and area strategy and between professional leadership and lay governance should be redrawn. The recent Joseph Rowntree research study, Schools, Governors and Disadvantage in England (March 2007) further supports this approach.

By 2012 we believe there should be a new constitutional settlement for the education sphere, with the rights and entitlements of all citizens, learners, institutions and public bodies defined in terms of entitlement, responsibilities, mutual accountabilities and expectations as part of a conscious strategy to renew the public realm. As you yourself have said, ‘The new progressive politics cannot be a reality unless we make local accountability work through reinvigorating the democratically elected mechanisms of local areas – local government’. (Speech – The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, 22 Oct 2004).

We therefore argue that schools and colleges should be required to work in partnership and that the underlying principles of Public Service Agreements and Local Area Agreements should have applicability to all educational providers, including – like independent schools and employer-led trainers – those in the private sector. If the commitment to a more personalised, bespoke education is applied to local communities of schools and colleges then meaningful and achievable aspirational targets would be locally created, locally owned and locally delivered. Within this framework, performance would be defined in local, community terms. Duplication would be reduced, learning pathways for learners enriched, and disadvantage addressed. Such community based provision would meet all the requirements of choice, personalisation, contestability and public sector entrepreneurship.

There are already examples of such co-operative practices operating on an ad-hoc basis and these should be included in the model we are proposing. We further propose that in order to develop and encourage innovative strategies a number of pilot programmes should be developed and an Educational Covenant established in pilot communities to develop performance management for the collective. Such Covenants would seek to harness and develop educational capacity within their community and, where appropriate, draw down corporate, philanthropic support for it. Capital plans and allocations, including Building Schools for the Future funds, should also be included . As with Public Service and Local Area Agreements, a performance bonus in exchange for achieving locally agreed targets would be an essential feature. The network of ‘Educational Covenants’ would be firmly aimed at securing higher standards, greater inclusion and shared professional leadership and lay governance.

But in order to make such social capitalisation work, communities must regain self confidence. They need to see the revival of civic government and the rediscovery of democratic connectivity. Such a reconstruction of the public domain is a timely and important aspiration, and we believe that education can pave the way. We therefore urge that serious consideration be given to unleashing the talents, skills and goodwill in people – both lay and professional – in our schools, colleges, training centres and youth clubs. In this way we can secure in all communities an educational commonwealth dedicated to the pursuit – and achievement – of excellence. The pilots we propose, properly evaluated, would represent an important step towards this aim.

If we do not achieve a renewal of this kind, we fear that present trends in schooling will worsen and that special privilege will be accorded to particular interest groups based on wealth or position or faith or other factors. Such fragmentation will further disfigure the nation’s education service, damaging the twin objectives of equity of opportunity and achievement and success for the many not the few. Indeed if schools are no longer to be a recognisable national system, inclusive, publicly governed, democratically accountable, we fear society will be disfigured too.

Equity, choice and admissions

The issues around equity, school choice and admissions were widely debated during the passage of the Education Bill last year, and are clearly of great interest and concern. They are of crucial importance to improving social cohesion, and mobility.

There is a large body of evidence (much of it drawn together and referenced in the IPPR paper, School admissions: fair choice for parents and pupils (February 2007) that links improved overall levels of school attainment with the presence in that school of a reasonable proportion of able and motivated pupils. Similarly, higher levels of attainment systems-wide are associated with lower levels of segregation, and schools that control their own admissions tend to have within them increased levels of social segregation. Surprisingly, the thrust of much recent schools policy has been to encourage the expansion of such schools.

The new Admissions Code may improve this situation, though where secondary schools are concerned it appears, no doubt unintentionally, to have reinforced the problem of admission by post code – something we will be happy to enlarge upon. Nor does the Code address the prevalence of overt and covert selection within the system. We believe, for the reasons above, that selection should be ended, and we strongly support the IPPR paper’s recommendation for close monitoring of the Code in action, and modification if it fails to secure improvement..

There is clear evidence also, most recently from Tackling low educational achievement (see above) that social class, particularly the educational experience of children’s mothers, affects the extent to which choice mechanisms are accessible and are used. Disadvantaged students are more likely to be found in disadvantaged schools, and social class remains a major determinant of educational outcomes.

There are two courses of action, we believe, that will raise overall levels of attainment and at the same time reduce social segregation inside schools. First, additional mechanisms should be put in place, including direct government support, to ensure that far more parents in deprived or disadvantaged circumstances get the school of their choice than hitherto. This is particularly important for children in care. Second, urgent steps should be taken to simplify the increasing complexity of the school system and the choices – in practice more notional than real – that it appears to offer parents. There is, after all, no evidence to support a link between diversity and improved outcomes: indeed the opposite appears to be true. And no admissions system is capable of converting the notion of ‘diversity and choice’ into the fair allocation of places for which parents express a preference, much less the places for which they might express a preference if they thought there was any realistic prospect of success. The danger of growing dissatisfaction is obvious.

There has to be a different approach, and one that better reflects what is known about effective systems and the factors which most influence educational outcomes. We need a shift of emphasis, away from the exaggerated idea that children’s life chances are determined mostly by the school they attend towards a recognition that the support provided by their families is of far greater significance. We do not for a moment diminish the contribution made by schools, nor the importance of every school being as effective as possible, but we do urge you to accept that what we propose offers the potential for greater and more rapid improvement than there has been hitherto. It will also yield broader social benefits from a more active engagement of families – including children and young people themselves.

Like the government, we want to see the highest possible levels both of overall educational achievement and of social justice and opportunity. This demands a system which is focussed not primarily on what individual schools achieve, but on meeting the needs of all the children and young people in a given community or locality. Particularly, as we have argued above, it requires a particular emphasis on stimulating and supporting the educationally disadvantaged. There has been some welcome recent progress in this direction, but not yet the sort of driving, central commitment that is needed if the scale of improvement that we believe possible is to be achieved.

We therefore look to Ministers to promote a more collective sense of engagement with and responsibility for the school system as a whole – not only amongst schools themselves, but in the context of a fair and effective system of collaboration and accountability, among parents, employers and all those other individuals and agencies with a contribution to make. The success of our education system, after all, will greatly determine the economic and social prospects of the nation: every one of us shares an interest in contributing to the overall, collective outcome. Too often, this message is lost in the pursuit of individual benefit. That is why the present reliance on competition as a driver of change is so short-sighted.

In conclusion

We repeat: like you, we want to see the highest possible levels of educational achievement and of social justice and opportunity. Our analysis ranges widely across the educational system. Nevertheless, some common themes recur. One is that addressing the needs of the disadvantaged will do more to meet our aims than any other single measure. One is that collaboration across a locality or community is likely to be a better driver of improvement than competition within it, at an institutional level. One is that league tables and excessive testing have proved to be perverse incentives, narrowing both children’s learning and (for some) their opportunities. And one is that we haven’t yet achieved the right balance between accountability and compliance, and local decision-making and central direction.

Our hope is that as Prime Minister you will have the courage and the vision to address these concerns: that you will seek to shape a new education service based on cooperation and trust rather than on hierarchy, competition and division, and that you will put an end to the differentials of access and resourcing that advantage the already advantaged and disadvantage further the already disadvantaged. Education is not the zero-sum game we have been building in recent years; there need not be losers and winners. Inclusive improvement is what is needed: we hope to see it espoused, articulated and guaranteed at the highest level of government.

We hope that you have found some of what we have suggested helpful. We wish you every success, and pledge you our support.

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