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What has happened to education standards?

For a generation we have heard a recurring theme from conservatives: education results are going up only because the standards we set for achievement are going down. Instinctively a "progressive", I have tended to take the other view: things have got better overall because we are dropping the idea of education as serving only an elite, and modernising how we define achievement.

When Prospect magazine asked me to take a long, hard and neutral look at the evidence and arguments, I came to a more balanced view than I had expected. In some ways we have spread the benefits of education, but in trying to do so we have sometimes neglected to challenge students sufficiently because we're so desparate for them to succeed. To any parent, these are familiar themes.

In my article, which was the Prospect cover story in June 2009, I argue that we need to abandon the simplistic debate about whether standards are going up or down and discuss the much more important issue of what kind of education we want for our children in the future. Too often by judging them by the standards of the past we distort what is on offer.

Theme: Education