Knighthood for London headteacher is one of more than 100 gongs awarded for services to education.
Being awarded a knighthood was not as exciting for an east London headteacher as good news from a team of Ofsted inspectors.
Alasdair Macdonald, head of Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, was one of more than 100 teachers and others to be recognised for their services to education in the New Year Honours list.
But Sir Alasdair said he had been more thrilled when Ofsted inspectors visited at the end of last term and declared his comprehensive in Tower Hamlets to be outstanding.
Although seven out of 10 of his pupils are entitled to free school meals and many parents speak no English, about 60 pupils a year now go on to higher education.
Despite his honour, Sir Alasdair is aware of the limits of his individual powers. The 58-year-old said: "Some politicians think schools can change society, but poverty and disadvantage are very deeply embedded. Schools can help. We can do the best we can, but these social issues require more than that."
Sir Alasdair puts much of his school's success down to its stable staffing. "If you want to sustain improvement you have to pay decent salaries," he said.
Others to be honoured included Keith Hargrave, former head of Canterbury High School in Kent, who was awarded a CBE. The secondary modern was once named and shamed as one of the 20 worst secondaries in the country. But under Mr Hargrave it improved to become a specialist sports college and leading-edge school.
Mr Hargrave is now principal of the Canterbury campus which includes the high school, and said that the toughest time of his career was when he was deputy head of the then Deal Community School in Dover during the miners' strike in the 1980s.
"We had miners' children, policemen's children and shopkeepers' children all in the school," he said. "We had to convince the community that when the children came to school they were children and did not have to worry about the strike or picketing."
Only one classroom teacher in England was honoured: David Goldsmith, a former staff member at Lord Wandsworth College near Alton in Hampshire, who received an MBE.
The award was also given to support staff, including three teaching assistants and two crossing wardens.