The year-by-year improvement in examination results owes more to the spirit of competition between schools than to Whitehall¹s increasingly centralized controls over them. Schools could produce still more improvements in the future if they were given even more freedom to manage themselves and compete for pupils. But there must be more focus on improving the performance of schools in poorer neighbourhoods, which have not kept pace with the general improvements.
Based on a study of 3000 state schools by two Lancaster University economists, the Report Card says the results of the competition between schools that has followed the introduction of league tables and other reforms in 1988 has been that:
- Parents have sought quality, moving their children to local schools that are higher up the league tables of exam performance;
- Exam performance has risen as schools feel the effects of this competition and try to outdo the achievement of other schools nearby;
- Larger schools perform better because they can be more flexible in how they use staff time; and
- The gap between rich and poor schools is widening, though not by much.