Schools that go it alone do best report

The most successful schools ignore government advice and set their own standards for effective teaching, according to a thinktank report published today.

The best schools have an "open culture", in which heads regularly pop into classrooms informally, the thinktank Reform says.

"The teachers view this as supportive rather than threatening ... the best schools foster an expectation and culture of perpetual improvement."

This change in culture leads to failing teachers either improving or leaving, the report says.

Being taught by a good teacher rather than a poor one improves a student's results by half a GCSE grade a subject, according to academic research quoted in the report.

By contrast, class size makes little difference.

Korea and Japan, which have bigger class sizes, do better at maths than pupils in England, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures.

The most effective teachers are those who benefit from their colleague's ideas and experience, including sharing lesson plans and strategies for tackling bad behaviour.

The report argues that government efforts to improve the quality of teaching is wasted.

"For example, the definition of good teaching provided by the Training and Development Agency for Schools is so woolly that good schools ignore it and draw up their own. The qualification for new headteachers run by the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services teaches many things but not how to manage a school or improve the performance of teachers."

The report, Every teacher matters, praises government plans to recruit teachers, which include expanding the Teach First programme that places high-flying graduates in inner-city schools.

It urges the government to use the education White Paper, due to be published later this month, to lay out a radical programme for improving teacher quality.

The government has already tightened the remit of Ofsted, but Reform calls for school inspections to focus solely on teaching quality and management.

Universities should develop education-focused, MBA-style qualifications to replace the qualification, which fails to train heads in key management skills, according to the thinktank.

National pay and conditions agreements should be scrapped, Reform says, "allowing headteachers to set the right balance between pay, staff numbers and quality".

The number of teaching assistants in schools will fall, the thinktank argues, "since the research evidence demonstrates that they add little value in many classrooms".

Reform also says that "full, genuine" parental choice is the best means to provide accountability. The thinktank's report calls for the government to lift restrictions on the coalition's free school initiative to allow profit-making providers to step in.

"The government should remove restrictions on free schools to substantially increase the number of new institutions and allow the effects of choice and competition to work," the report says.

"It is inconsistent to ban profit-making in schools funded by the taxpayer when the making of profit in publicly-funded hospitals, prisons and care homes is allowed."

Dale Bassett, Research Director at Reform, said: "Michael Gove and his team have a priceless opportunity to raise standards because so few English state schools make effective efforts to improve the quality of the teaching staff.

"They can learn from the successful schools which take responsibility themselves and avoid the advice given by the expensive national agencies. Ministers need to remove this bureaucracy if schools are to find the zeal for improving teaching that is so badly needed."