7th July 2000 at 01:00
The present phase of reform is all-embracing and urgent but, even as it is implemented, it is important to look ahead and to anticipate the shape of reform to come. I want to finish with some speculations about the future.

Seeing things through

The first task in the next three to five years is to embed the reforms currently being put in place and ensure they become irreversible. The past 20 years of education reform are littered with programmes which have been inadequately implemented or abandoned by governments without the courage or strategic sense to see them through to impact on student performance. This Government must not make that mistake.

If it all works, the result will be schools with high autonomy and high performance.

As more schools succeed, so they will have greater autonomy and reward.

Successful schools would have responsibility for meeting standards in the core areas of learning but also making a distinctive contribution to the system as a whole.

Government's role in these circumstances would shift from driving reform to creating the conditions, and crucially the culture, for a transformation which would be led and created by the schools themselves.

This is precisely the shift that has happened in successful businesses with the centre shaping overall direction and culture while frontline units lead innovation and respond to ever-higher customer demands.

School reform will globalise

Just as financial services globalised in the 1980s and media and communications in the 1990s, so in this decade we will see education reform globalising. The impact of the international comparisons of the 1990s, such as TIMSS, was profound. Researchers and policy-makers have extended their horizons beyond national boundaries in the search for solutions.

This process will go much further as technological change and globalisation gather pace. We will see the globalisation of large elements of the curriculum.

Media and communications organisations will prepare and market internationally excellent interactive materials which will influence curriculum, standards, pedagogy and assessment across international boundaries.

The school will remain crucial, providing the foundation of learning, the induction into democratic society and the constant support that every individual student needs but it will cease to be the provider of all learning for each student. Instead, while it will provide some, it will also seek learning opportunities in other schools, in out-of-school learning settings (such as museums), in the community, in the workplace or over theInternet. It will be an advocate for the student and a guarantor of quality.

Increasingly, teachers will think not just outside the boundaries of their school building but beyond their city and country. To anticipate this in England we intend to provide international exchange opportunities for 5,000 teachers a year and from next year through the new leadership college offer heads the opportunity to link to their peers abroad.

Public or private

The central question for public authorities will cease to be "who provides?" Instead they will ask "how is the public interest to be secured?" For most of the 20th century, the drive for educational progress came from the public sector, often in combination with the religious or voluntary sectors. The challenge for the 21st century is to seek out what works.

The issue is not whether the public, private or voluntary sector alone will shape the future but what partnerships and combinations of the three will make the most difference to student performance.

There is a rich field for research and development here and we need to know more. In England we are consciously experimenting by creating new vehicles for partnership with the private sector.

Beacon schools, education action zones and the 500 specialist schools, all of which have links with business partners, are all part of this research and development.

Public authorities will need to invest more in education than ever before, partly because of technology and pressures to improve teachers' pay,

conditions and professional development, but mainly because they will be striving to achieve much higher performance standards for all, not just some, students.

Meanwhile, those parents able to will spend more money than ever on their children's education.

Some may choose private schools, but many will spend on resources for the home and on out-of-school learning.

he challenge for government will therefore be to provide high-quality schools, but also to provide the equivalent of the home and out-of-school learning opportunities for those students whose parents do not have the will or the means to provide them. This will be crucial from an equity as well as a performance point of view and opens up an entirely new area for public policy.

Professor Michael Barber is special adviser to Education Secretary David Blunkett, and head of the standards and effectiveness unit at the Department for Education and Employment. This is an edited version of a speech delivered to The Smith Richardson Foundation in Washington. For the full text go to

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