Editorial - Why pretend our schools are less than world-class?

1st August 2014 at 01:00

Why is it socially acceptable to write off our national schools system as useless, yet to do similar with the NHS is to risk exile to the outer reaches of Ukip Lalaland?

This phenomenon is even stranger when one considers people's personal experiences. Down the pub or around the dinner party table, Joe and Jo Bloggs queue up to swap war stories about the impossibility of securing a GP's appointment or Auntie Mabel's 27-year wait for a hip replacement.

Conversely, survey after survey finds that pupils and parents overwhelmingly have a great experience of local schools and teachers. Yet you're considered to be one can short of a six-pack if, as I do, you proclaim "British qualifications are the envy of the world" or "London has one of the best education systems on the planet".

In terms of public perception, the NHS is destined always to be saintly; education, if not actually damned to the fiery bowels of hell, will always be hanging around in purgatory.

I am not geek enough to undertake a deep analysis of this paradox, although I suspect it probably has something to do with teachers not curing cancer and the fact that education is free in most Western countries while healthcare is not. But although the majority of Brits are unable to see the excellence of education in their own country, the rest of the world can. And it's acting on it.

International schools are cropping up everywhere. And the crme de la crme are those that market themselves as British, those that import UK teachers, those that teach to an English curriculum and have pupils who take English exams. We've reached a point where you could visit just about any city in the world and easily find a class of children taking GCSE maths. In many countries it is as much a status symbol to have your offspring collect three As at A-level as it is to have the latest Porsche on your drive or Rolex on your wrist.

The numbers to support this trend are astonishing, including the $40 billion (pound;24 billion) a year that is paid in fees in international schools.

Perhaps even more amazing is that this year more than 100,000 British teachers will be teaching beyond our shores. To put this in perspective, fewer than 500,000 people teach in all England's schools put together. There are nearly as many British teachers overseas as there are members of the entire British Army (talk about "soft" or "hard power" - it's clear which is more in demand in the Middle East these days).

English education is one of the great export stories of the past quarter of a century. And yet you'll rarely hear ministers, or indeed prime ministers, talking it up. They've been too busy banging on about the need for curriculum changes, academisation and so on, ad infinitum.

As the usual exam season navel-gazing and teacher-bashing kicks in, maybe now is the time for the country's new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, to reverse this trend and say something positive about schools and the brilliant job they do for UK PLC. From Newcastle to Newquay, from Eton College to Mossbourne Academy, and now from Beijing to Buenos Aires, you're world-class.



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