Teaching profession 'must find more high-quality graduates'

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Massive increases in education spending have failed to produce the necessary improvement in standards, says the man behind New Labour's school reforms.

A global study reveals that cash injections and initiatives by governments have left them with education systems which "still fall short of being world-class", argues Sir Michael Barber, a former head of public policy during the Blair years.

The Government should focus on recruiting high-quality graduates into teaching because countries which have done so have achieved the best results, says Sir Michael, a former head of the schools standards unit set up by David Blunkett.

During his tenure, Sir Michael oversaw the introduction of the compulsory literacy hour and daily maths lesson in primary schools which saw the percentage of 11-year-olds reaching the required standards in English and maths rise for the first time in 50 years.

However, writing in The Times Educational Supplement, he argues: "Massive increases in expenditure on education over the last generation (last year alone the world's governments spent $2trn) have not resulted in comparable improvements in achievements." He suggests that the analysis throws up key questions to be faced by education systems "which have improved but still fall short of being truly world-class".

Four countries which lead international performance tables – South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong – all manage to attract high-flying graduates into schools, Sir Michael points out. In South Korea, teachers are recruited from the top 5 per cent of graduates, while in Finland they come from the top 10 per cent. In the US, by contrast, only graduates in the bottom 33 per cent go into teaching. Britain, he says, lies between the two extremes.