Hoddle showed us how the White Paper can succeed

7th November 1997 at 00:00
You will be asked. So make a note of it before you forget. Where did you watch England's nil-nil draw in Rome? We worried about this question for about a month before the match.

In the end, we found a hotel in central London which had a huge screen in a restaurant. We booked a table and duly turned up half an hour before kick-off.

"Are you the family that has come to watch the football?" asked the manager as we arrived. We pointed to our England scarves and St George's flags, so she could draw her own conclusions. "The football is on Sky 2," she said. Why was she bothering us with this detailed technicality? "We only have Sky 1."

We fled into the night, looking for any bar with a TV screen which would admit children. On the stroke of 7.45, as the match began, we sat down in one (with an Italian waitress whose evening was about to get worse) and watched in admiration as our heroes played the game of their lives.

After the euphoria of World Cup qualification came the reflection. How had Hoddle built a team capable of taking on the world?

He has assiduously learnt from international comparisons. What enabled Germany and Italy, Argentina and Brazil to beat us every time it really mattered until now? We like to think it was luck - Maradona's hand, that Stuart Pearce penalty in 1990, Gareth Southgate in 1996. But it wasn't. It was a combination of the technical mastery of individual players and a culture which valued skill rather than effort, imagination rather than strength, thinking rather than obeying orders. Glenn Hoddle's England have matched that. The team formation, though important, is not enough. In short, Glenn Hoddle and his team have learnt that standards matter more than structures.

The principle in our White Paper, Excellence in Schools, that standards matter more than structures has excited a great deal of comment.

In doing so, they continue a national tradition dating back to the 19th century. Each time we came to reform the education service in this country - 1870, 1902, 1918, 1944, 1965, 1988 - we debated the structure. Should we have school boards or local education authorities? Should we have church or state schools? Selective or comprehensive? Grant-maintained or local education authority? Specialist or general? No one pretends that these issues are unimportant but as a result of our obsession with them, we have missed two profound truths.

If we are to create the world-class education service that Tony Blair advocated on May 2 - an education service as good as Hoddle's football team - then we will have to prioritise these two issues above our old structural favourite. We can reveal both by starting from the same place as Glenn Hoddle. Why is that in international comparisons we lose out to countries which between them have a huge diversity of structures? Selective Germany and Japan as well as comprehensive Denmark and Norway all do better than we do.

Answer: because on the one hand culture and on the other pedagogy both matter more than the organisation chart. All the international evidence suggests that high expectations are a vital cultural characteristic of successful education systems: parents' expectations of their children, teachers' expectations of their pupils, society's expectations of its schools, government's expectations of every public servant. When this Government talks about "zero tolerance of under-performance"; it is not just making a statement of intent, it is also making a bold cultural statement. It is recognising the stark truth that if we really want success for every child, we have to challenge the endemic low expectations which have been such a feature of education in this country.

The government is using every opportunity to change the culture too - cinema advertisements with the slogan "no one forgets a good teacher"; literacy storylines in Brookside; regular celebrations of proven success; a constant focus on best practice; honours for teachers and heads, and investment in education.

Government alone, however, cannot change the culture. It needs teachers, business, parents and the media to work with it. If we want a culture that supports education, we will have to create it. It is a shared responsibility and it is easily undermined. Any teacher who advises a young person not to go into teaching I any researcher who, through obtuse reading of the data claims schools make no difference I any social scientist who says nothing can be done until after the revolution I any academic who claims that because measuring standards over time is difficult you shouldn't try I is feeding the cynicism on which low expectations are based.

They are also feeding the prevailing culture within the teaching profession that all teachers are as good as all other teachers and that teaching methodology is a matter of individual preference. In fact, pedagogy is crucial. Of course, it is true that there is no one best method to teach anything but there is plenty of evidence that some approaches to teaching are much better than others.

The problem in this country is that no arrangements have been put in place to enable teachers to learn systematically the approaches that work best. They have been repeatedly criticised for not teaching properly, and borne the brunt of a systemic failure. With its powerful emphasis on disseminating effective practice, in the first instance prioritising literacy and numeracy at primary level, this Government intends to change that.

"Standards matter more than structures," the principle set out in chapter one of Excellence in Schools, is not, therefore, as some critics would have it, a fleeting political slogan which the Government will come to regret. It is a statement of the most important fact facing this country's education service. Unless we face up to it squarely, then success in our attempt to create a world class education service will always elude us.

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