Education, education, education. Brits of a certain vintage will remember those three words, underpinning the foundations of New Labour’s message in 1997.
The effectiveness of Tony Blair’s reforms is still being debated, not least with regard to his policy of sending 50 per cent of students to university, but one cannot question how effective those words were in capturing the spirit of a country that has always prided itself on equipping each child with the skills required to reach their potential.
So yesterday’s widely-respected Pisa rankings should give plenty of food for thought.
It is, broadly, good news. The UK has made clear progress in international school rankings which are established via tests of 15 year-olds across almost 80 countries.
Run by the OECD, they show a significant improvement in reading (up from 22nd in the previous benchmark test three years ago to 14th), in maths (up to 18th from 27th) and in science (up one place to 14th).
But it is not all good news, especially at a regional level.
As pointed out by Sam Freedman, chief executive of the Education Partnerships Group and a former Department for Education policy adviser, Scotland led England in 2009. It has since fallen significantly behind England.
The SNP’s myopic obsession with independence has been to the detriment of educating young Scots — the area of domestic policy that it has most autonomy over.
And in Wales, results remain below the OECD average in all three subjects.
Extraordinarily, the Welsh education minister — again, run at a devolved level by Labour — said the results amounted to a positive “but not perfect” score.
What is abundantly clear from the results is that there is a marked difference across the regions of our country in the quality of education and, therefore, the life chances of young people.
The answer is to look at what’s working and when it comes to the UK, there is now a clear case to say that it’s working well in England.
Internationally recognised improvement in attainment levels across English schools should be the context in which Labour’s education policy is seen.
It pledges to rip up the entire system, replace the inspections bodies, scrap existing exams and bring an end to the (evidently) successful rollout of free-schools and academies.
There remains room for considerable improvement in the system, but the evidence suggests the current model is at least moving in the right direction.
Tearing the whole thing up is the last thing anybody needs.
Main image: Getty