Nice one Cyril: UK adviser set to meet Obama team

6th March 2009 at 00:00
Taylor keen to export our turnaround ideas to US

As an adviser to four successive prime ministers and 10 education secretaries, he was at the heart of British schools policy for more than 20 years. But can Sir Cyril Taylor export his ideas on academies and specialist schools to Barack Obama's government? Yes, he can. At least, that is what he plans to do when he meets Arne Duncan, America's new education secretary.

Sir Cyril, former chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, believes the policies that improved standards in schools here can turn around poor results in urban America. He plans to meet Mr Duncan, who once ran the public schools system in Chicago, in Washington next month.

"The ideas behind specialist schools and academies originated in America, but they have a mixed record of success there," Sir Cyril said. "We have taken those ideas and made them work."

Sir Cyril will urge Mr Duncan to follow England's lead by increasing the country's focus on numeracy and literacy, and will advocate a national testing regime with uniform standards for all states.

"There are no national standards of accountability in America. States set their own targets," Sir Cyril said. "There are a lot of grumbles about tests here, but you have to have accountability. The system in the US can be too cosy."

Sir Cyril believes the "Achilles' heel" of American education is the underperformance of urban schools. In 15 of the 50 largest urban areas, fewer than half of pupils graduate from high school, he said.

The academies programme here is largely based on the US charter school movement.

"Arne Duncan is a huge supporter of charter schools and would be sympathetic to what we have done in the UK," Sir Cyril said. "Charter schools have had a mixed record so far, but I think we will see a huge increase in their numbers.

"We have made a lot of progress in recent years compared to the States, and the general performance of our schools is better," said Sir Cyril. "But one important lesson is not to make constant changes, as we are inclined to do. That drives teachers crazy."

Sir Cyril Taylor's book, 'A Good School for Every Child', is published by Routledge.

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