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Creating a world-class school system for England Current

education , public services , schools



This programme of work will create a blue-print of school reform for our times – setting out what it would take to make England’s schools truly ‘world class’.

Politicians from all parties are committed to making England’s schools ‘the best in the world’. The Secretary of State for Education has argued that it is not enough to settle for improving standards over time – but that we also need to improve standards in comparison to our competitor countries. This builds on the previous government’s aim to see English teenagers rise into the top three in science and top five in maths out of all OECD countries.

While these are important aims in an increasingly globalised and competitive world, achieving them will be a big challenge. Despite considerable investment and reform in schools, England has been slipping down the international ‘PISA’ rankings since 2000.

There is a growing body of evidence on what drives school systems to improve in relation to other countries. While these studies identify common features of the top-performing school systems, they do not provide a route map for how specific countries can achieve them. They acknowledge that while the best school systems all have common aims, such as improving the quality of teachers, 'each top-performing country achieves this in its own way' (McKinsey 2010).

Reforms from other countries therefore cannot be copied in a piecemeal and uncritical fashion. There is a need to identify how the lessons learnt from research into global best practice can be applied in the English context. Lessons from abroad will have to sit with challenges that are specific to the English schools system, fit with current government reforms and be workable in a time of reduced spending.

Project detail

The objective of the programme is to identify how lessons learnt about the world’s top-performing systems can best be applied in the English context. The programme will:

  • Identify which lessons from overseas are most appropriate for the English school system. 
  • Identify and stress-test which policies can be introduced in England in a time of constrained public spending and ongoing reforms of the education system, and how they fit together to create an overarching framework for reform.
  • Disseminate findings through IPPR’s extensive networks in government, media and key education stakeholders.

The programme of work will focus on three substantive areas: the schools workforce, the curriculum, and systems to drive improvement.