Mr Kershaw, 64, the executive principal of New College in Leicester, is among 22 heads and teachers recognised in the Queen's birthday honours.
At the age of 15, Mr Kershaw left school to help support his family, with no qualifications. But a teacher told him that he had the temperament to join the profession. Working days as a shop assistant for Marks Spencer, he spent four years at night school gaining five O-levels and two A-levels and then enrolled in teacher training.
He was appointed to his first school post at the age of 20. His headteacher arranged for him to undertake an MA in educational research, which eventually led to a deputy headship.
"It was always teachers who inspired me," he said. "Teachers can change people's lives. They make a difference. The job is a genuine privilege."
The honour recognises his work at New College. When he took over in December 2005, 9 per cent of pupils achieved A*-C grades at GCSE; by 2006, the figure had trebled to 27 per cent.
Unusually, no heads were made knights or dames this year. But Jim Rose, the expert who advised the Government on phonics, is now Sir Jim. This recognises his review of the teaching of reading, published last year.
"The knighthood is a very welcome reward for hard work over the last two years," he said, "but the goal is language comprehension. If schools are implementing a good phonics programme, then hooray. The important benefits are those which accrue to children."
Three heads were made CBEs. Like Mr Kershaw, Jeff Threlfall, 52, the head of Wildern school in Southampton and executive head of John Hunt of Everest secondary in Basingstoke, has brought dramatic improvements. Since he took over at John Hunt two years ago, the number of pupils achieving top-grade GCSEs has risen from 5 to 19 per cent.
"It's all about continuity," he said. "Continuity allows pupils to know where they are and allows teachers to concentrate on teaching. Everyone in the community knows what they're meant to be doing."
Shami Chakrabarti, a TES columnist and director of Liberty, the human-rights organisation, was also made a CBE.
Nine heads were made OBEs, and two MBEs. Anne Evans, the chief executive of Heads, Teachers and Industry, an educational charity, and several civil servants at the Department for Education and Skills were also made OBEs.
Eight teachers were made MBEs, as were five support staff. Agnes Thompson, 58, the school catering manager at Thomas Hepburn comprehensive in Gateshead, was among them.
"I just love to see the children fed," she said. "You feel a part of people's lives."
JOIN THE JUDGES
Anyone wanting a say in who should be awarded honours can apply to join the education honours committee, which includes Mike Tomlinson, chair of the Government's 14-19 working group, and David Bell, the DfES permanent secretary. There are two vacancies. The closing date for applications is June 29. See www.honours.gov.uk
HONOURS FOR TEACHERS
CBEs: David Kershaw, executive principal, New College, Leicester; Carol Nicholls, head, Norbury Manor college, Croydon, south-west London; Jeffrey Threlfall, head, Wildern school, Southampton, and executive head of John Hunt of Everest community school, Basingstoke, Hampshire.
OBEs: Patricia Beanland, head, King's Norton girls' school, Birmingham; Patricia Carville, retired principal, St Patrick's college, Northern Ireland; Anita Cliff, head, Manor primary, Wolverhampton; Barry Day, head, Greenwood Dale school, Nottingham; Susan Devereux, head, Banks Road primary, Liverpool; Robert Gilby, head, Hasland junior, Derbyshire; Jasminder Grewal, head, North primary, Southall, north-west London; Judith O'Kane, head, Melland high, Manchester; Dennis Richards, head, St Aidan's school, Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
MBEs Richard Barnes, teacher, Lady Manners, Derbyshire; Kevin Howley, teacher, Oakbank school, Bradford; Teresa Lee, manager, Sharnford pre-school, Leicestershire; Helen Norris, head, Phoenix children's centre, Bromley, south-east, London; Ruth Nye, teacher, Yehudi Menhuin school, Stoke D'Abernon, Surrey; Timothy Poole, deputy head, Sunbury Manor, Surrey; Rosemary Rice, teacher, Kentish Town primary, north London; David Thomas, teacher, Horncastle primary, Lincolnshire; Kathleen Wood, head, Hornbill school, Brunei; Anthony Wright, teacher, Trinity school, Carlisle, Cumbria