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Gove looks towards Poland for inspiration on schools

From the charter schools of New Orleans and New York to world-beating Finland, via Sweden's free schools and the Asian tigers of Singapore and Hong Kong, Michael Gove has scoured the globe for policies to borrow.

Now the Westminster education secretary has set his sights on a new and rather unlikely, some might imagine, source of ideas: Poland.

Eastern Europe is not generally the first place people have turned to when looking for excellence in schools, particularly since the collapse of Communism. But after modernising reforms that began at the end of the 1990s, it has become the most successful of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results from 2009 ranked Poland 15th out of 65 international school systems for reading, ahead of the US, Sweden, Germany, France and the UK, in 25th place.

A source close to the education secretary said he had been interested in Poland's "consistent rise in the league tables and closing of the gap between good and bad schools", adding that these improvements had been achieved by delaying all vocational study until pupils were 16.

Andreas Schleicher, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development official who runs Pisa, told TES: "Poland is one of the countries offering very interesting policy lessons. I think what it did so well is that it was very good at moderating the differences and removing institutional barriers between schools. It was very good at bringing the teaching profession really into play and improving the education system.

"And it was a country achieving much of this, really, without money."

Mr Schleicher added that Poland had been successful at moving disadvantaged pupils who had been attending vocational schools back into mainstream education.

"That is very hard to do," he said. "Because the parents at those (mainstream) schools will say: 'Why would I want my children to be together with those kids?'

"It is a very hard thing to justify and the way in which Poland has achieved this, underpinned by good evidence, provides a very interesting lesson for the world."


479 - Poland's average Pisa score in reading in 2000

500 - Poland's average Pisa score in reading in 2009, the seventh-biggest rise of 26 OECD countries

10% - Proportion of Polish adults with a university degree during the Communist era, one of the lowest rates in the world. There has since been a fivefold increase in university enrolment.

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