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Timely focus on the lower rungs

After the 1997 election, the Standards and effectiveness unit swept to power under the dynamic leadership of Michael Barber, former local politician, academic and official of the National Union of Teachers. Its mission: to set tough targets and push schools to meet them.

Seven years later, the targets have not been met, and the SEU is being shut down under a draconian civil service slimming regime. There is no doubt, though, that driving through the national literacy and numeracy strategies, it transformed primary schools and, more gently, key stage 3, in a short period of time.

But the SEU's definition of standards was narrow. Now the standards agenda is being overtaken by the inclusion agenda as the Children Bill, going through Parliament, brings the focus on those at the bottom of the ladder, rather than those who could reach the top with just a bit of boosting and cramming.

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