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1. We are fortunate that our school system has important strengths. But our commitment to making opportunity more equal means that we cannot shy away from confronting its weaknesses.
2. There are many outstanding school teachers and leaders. But teachers consistently tell us that they feel constrained and burdened, required to teach the same limited diet to successive classes of young people. Most children and young people behave well, but teachers consistently tell us that their authority to deal decisively with bad behaviour has been undermined. More children are participating in education for longer, but the curriculum they are following contains too much that is non-essential and too little which stretches them to achieve standards matching the best in the world.
3. More young people are achieving qualifications, but it is no coincidence that many of the qualifications which have grown in popularity recently are not those best recognised by employers and universities, but those which carry the highest value in school performance tables. Schools have become skilled at meeting government targets but too often have had their ability to do what they think is right for their pupils constrained by government directives or improvement initiatives. Schools have more money overall, but it is distributed unfairly, with too much consumed by bureaucracy, both local and national.
4. As a result, our school system performs well below its potential and can improve significantly. Many other countries in the world are improving their schools faster than we are. Many other countries have much smaller gaps between the achievements of rich and poor than we do. The very best performing education systems show us that there need be no contradiction between a rigorous focus on high standards and a determination to narrow attainment gaps between pupils from different parts of society; between a rigorous and stretching curriculum and high participation in education; or between autonomous teachers and schools and high levels of accountability. Indeed, these jurisdictions show us that we must pay attention to all of these things at once if our school system is to become one of the world’s fastest improving. Even the best school systems in the world are constantly striving to get better – Singapore is looking again at further improving its curriculum, while Hong Kong is looking at ways in which it can improve its teacher training.
5. In England, what is needed most of all is decisive action to free our teachers from constraint and improve their professional status and authority, raise the standards set by our curriculum and qualifications to match the best in the world and, having freed schools from external control, hold them effectively to account for the results they achieve. Government should make sure that school funding is fair, with more money for the most disadvantaged, but should then support the efforts of teachers, helping them to learn from one another and from proven best practice, rather than ceaselessly directing them to follow centralised Government initiatives.
6. This White Paper sets out our plans for continuing to take the action that is urgently needed.
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