But, as he urged a less confrontational approach at the North of England Education Conference in Blackpool, opposition to the way tests in English for 14- year-olds are being managed was hardening among teachers and local authorities.
Harrow, a Conservative-run north London borough, is writing to John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, to express concern over the arrangements and call on him to postpone the tests. Harrow's GCSE results last summer would have been the best in England if the borough had not been pipped at the post by the Scilly Isles, where there is only one secondary school. Parents polled at nine of Harrow's ten secondary schools are overwhelmingly opposed to the tests, teachers say.
Mr Davies, who had been substituted as a speaker at a late stage for Mr Patten, said that disputes between local authorities, the Department for Education, teachers and unions were baffling to those outside the education system. 'What is now required above all else is for peace to break out within the education system, and for a general retreat from the barricades in the interests of the children within the system and our future prosperity as a nation.'
He said the focus must now be on making the new education system, created by reforms over the last five years, work. 'Constant dispute about the national curriculum, testing, assessment league tables and opting out create the impression that the education establishment is more interested in its own internal disputes than in the fate of the children in its care.
'Please concentrate instead on making the best use of the pounds 30bn you are given to make something of our children. In general the Government has been on the right track. Furthermore the forces of change they have unleashed cannot now be sent to the back of the classroom.'
He singled out opposition to the recent school exam league tables as 'the height of folly' but added: 'I believe on the other hand, that for the Government to take upon itself to publish the results in an aggressive and unsophisticated way was also unwise.'
Mr Davies criticised the 'crab- like' progress of the Government towards its aim of creating a system which harnessed the disciplines of the market to stimulate an improvement in standards.
The Government's determination to break the power of local education authorities has left a bizarre situation in which town halls were 'beached whales' with no obvious purpose. It had also taken too long to grasp the nettle of devising a funding system for opt-out schools so they did not receive different amounts of cash according to their location.
Sir Claus Moser, an education adviser to the Prince of Wales and Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, told the conference that schools should be guaranteed a share of the new national lottery. They should be given about pounds 20m if the lottery raises the expected pounds 1bn each year.