Teachers who battle every day with children whose lives are blighted by unemployment, broken families, drugs and miserable housing have always known that the key to raising standards for those at the bottom of the heap lies as much in parents and society as in schools. Research from the Centre for Economic Performance suggests that poverty remains the main influence on educational achievement. Ministers have begun to recognise this. Sure Start, the programme that targets families with young children in poor areas, and the children's agenda that aims to draw together different services, are examples. We report on page 12 that ministers are contemplating ways of making parents take more responsibility for their chidren's education.
A policy which concentrates mainly on giving parents more choice appears to be shifting towards one which also emphasises that they must co-operate with schools. More, as yet unspecified, disciplinary powers are promised for heads. Choice remains at the centre of government thinking, but there is a new acknowledgement that it has so far served the interests of the middle class rather than the disadvantaged. Whether these good intentions will translate into practical politics among the distractions of more glamorous schemes such as academies is unclear: schools in the most deprived areas need more money, more support and a culture that accepts that league tables can never measure their achievement. But the change of heart is at least a start.