England's schools are the best in Britain, says education academic

17th July 2009 at 01:00

A leading Scottish education academic has claimed that England's schools are better than those in the other three home countries.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at the University of Edinburgh, said that an analysis of the diverging education systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has shown it is Whitehall's decision-making that has yielded the best results.

"What is little realised and never celebrated is that the clear winner is the much-disdained England," he writes in today's TESS.

Professor Paterson believes that the encouragement of diversity has been the main catalyst behind the improvements in England's education system since Labour came to power.

"Let us remind ourselves of the main relevant features of comparative policy since 1997," he writes. "The dominant theme in England has been fostering a diverse range of school types in the belief that the resulting competition and emulation will lead to improvement."

Such reform has not been mirrored in Wales and Scotland, where policymakers are still wedded to a "uniformity of structures", he writes, and Northern Ireland remains mired in its age-old debate about grammar schools.

"England's education system may still have its problems," he writes. "There may be more pressure on children and teachers than ever before. There may be types of diversity and places where competition has undermined morale. But the essential point is that attainment in England has improved much more than in the other three nations.

"That is true in primary, as shown last year by the Timss (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study). It is true of attainment at GCSE or equivalent. And it is true of progression rates into higher education."

Professor Paterson concludes that "improvements in England cannot be attributed to any one policy, such as that of specialist schools".

He writes: "Although such policies have probably improved attainment slightly, the most likely effect they have had is to encourage a spirit of constructively competitive improvement."

Comment, page 21.

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