England's schools are best, says Scottish academic

3rd July 2009 at 01:00

A leading Scottish academic has claimed that England's schools are now better than those in the other three nations that make up the UK.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University, said that an analysis of the diverging education systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland shows Whitehall's decision-making 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 TES. "Let us remind ourselves of the main relevant features of policy since 1997. The dominant theme in England has been fostering a diverse range of school types, and the belief that the resulting competition and emulation are means of improvement."

Professor Paterson argues encouraging this diversity has been the main driver behind the improvements since New Labour's 1997 election victory, reform that has not been mirrored in Wales and Scotland. Here, he argues, policy-makers are still wedded to a "uniformity of structures", while Northern Ireland is still mired in its age-old debate about its commitment to grammar schools.

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

"The improvement in England cannot be attributed solely to any one policy, such as that on specialist schools," he concludes. "Although such policies have probably improved attainment slightly, the most likely role they have played is to encourage a spirit of constructively competitive improvement."

Lindsay Paterson, page 37;

Why the 11-plus is dividing Northern Ireland,

TES Magazine, page 10.

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