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FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH BUILDING ON SUCCESS IN LONDON SCHOOLS Saturday 8th February 2014 Institute of Education. What can schools learn from the best education systems? Peter Mortimore

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What can schools learn from the best education systems?

Peter Mortimore

Former Director of the Institute of Education, University of London & former Professor i pedagogik, Syddansk Universitet.

  • Challenge of studying other education systems
  • The strengths of London schools
  • The underlying problems of the English system
  • Some comparative data
  • Possible ways to improve
  • What next?
challenge of studying other education systems
Challenge of studying other education systems
  • Difficulties
    • Contexts of national history, culture and customs
    • Barriers of language and understanding
    • Limits of access
  • Benefits
    • Realisation that there are alternatives
    • Observation of how schooling and society are linked
    • Improved understanding of one’s own system.
the london tradition
The London tradition
  • Pioneers like Alex Bloom
  • The work of the London County Council
  • The ILEA
  • The London Challenge.
strengths of the education system
Strengths of the education system
  • Reasonable aims
  • Adequate functioning
  • Generally good local government
  • Good tradition of Governing Bodies
  • High quality teacher education
  • Generally high quality of teaching
  • Generally good school leadership
  • Efficient local management of schools
  • Plus music, art sport & fun.
ambiguous features
Ambiguous features
  • Spending on the system - a fair distribution or cash for favourite schools and projects
  • The National Curriculum
  • Assessment
  • Faith schools
  • The National Reading scheme
  • Inspection.
weaknesses of the system
Weaknesses of the system
  • Over-dominance of Westminster
  • Lack of affordable pre-school care
  • The market model of schooling
  • Impact of private schools
  • Selection
  • Children’s stress
  • An obsession with measuring ability.
  • A national obsession with sorting people by ability
  • IQ scores or broader definition

[intellectual, social, emotional, physical and artistic capabilities, skill in using luck, capacity for hard work, resilience and sense of strategy]

  • Need to take account of energy, curiosity, motivation, stamina, resilience etc.
  • Skill of making the most of what you have
  • Insecurity of not knowing one’s own ability
  • Power of expectations.
a lesson from history
A lesson from history
  • Education systems cope well with pupils coming from relatively advantaged backgrounds
  • Pupils from poor family backgrounds do less well everywhere (though exceptional individuals buck the trend)
  • The achievement gap is one of education’s greatest challenges
  • Some countries – like Finland - are good at reducing this gap (England did well 1950 -2000).
so how good is england s performance
So how good is England’s performance?
  • A mixed bag for PIRLS
  • Good but with achievement gap in TIMSS
  • Average in PISA with reducing achievement gap
  • High tertiary but not lifelong learning
  • And our children are less happy.


  • The obvious question is why is it not better?
  • The next question is how to improve?
so what can we learn from better systems
So what can we learn from better systems?
  • Pre-school is good and school starting age is 6 or 7
  • Much less testing and few league tables
  • Less pressure on pupils, teachers and parents
  • Trust is highly valued
  • School is seen as preparation for democratic life
  • Life-long learning is encouraged by slower pace and built in catch up points
  • Societies appear less selfish.
possible ways forward
Possible ways forward
  • Immediately
    • Ensure all schools have common funding, powers and governance
    • Abolish league tables
    • Outlaw selection
    • Open up faith schools
  • While exploring ways
    • To ensure all schools have a balanced intake
    • And a more even spread of effective teachers
  • And working towards
    • The integration of private schools.
  • England has excellent teachers but a muddled system
  • It has strengths but also weaknesses and English school pupils appear less happy than their counterparts
  • Remedies are available but politicians will ignore them unless we can persuade the public to demand change
  • We must maintain our enthusiasm for education - its impact might be limited but it still represents the best hope of creating a better society.

Education under siege: why there is a better alternativePeter MortimorePublished by Policy Press and also available as an E book[]