The Chief adviser on school standards to the Blair government warned Scottish education leaders that they must stress moral purpose and social justice in their quest to improve schools.
David Hopkins, professor emeritus at the Institute of Education, London University, told delegates at the Scottish Government summer school on leadership that the focus should be on enhancing teaching quality, rather than structural change.
To be successful, leaders needed to concentrate on both raising the bar and narrowing the gap in terms of attainment. Quoting the Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi, he told his audience: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
The only two education ministers in England who had shown a "real vision for education" and expressed "their moral purpose for education" were David Miliband and Estelle Morris, he stated.
Under the new coalition government, England was now beginning to focus on the wrong things, said Professor Hopkins, who admitted to having had stand-up rows with Tony Blair over his education policies, although he credited New Labour with having raised literacy standards significantly.
The Labour government's progress in literacy attainment had resulted from a policy of high challenge and high support from the centre, he said. But results had then plateaued and declined slightly, because the focus had been on structural change rather than building capacity within the system.
Only by making the crucial shift from prescription to professionalism could sustainable reform of education be achieved, he added.
Professor Hopkins' four key drivers to raising achievement and building capacity for the next stage of reform were:
- personalising learning by giving children the skills to learn;
- professionalising teaching through giving teachers an enhanced repertoire of learning and teaching strategies or "building the intellectual muscle in classrooms";
- building intelligent accountability through rigorous self-evaluation linked to improvement strategies; and
- innovation and networking, including a focus on taking greater responsibility for neighbouring schools.