Two pairs of schools, in London and Singapore, were chosen for this comparative study of approaches to the challenge of improving achievement. All the schools seemed to be achieving "against the odds", with pupils who were relatively disadvantaged in their society. The research team of educational researchers, business people and other professionals looked at the schools' successes and achievements in the face of adversity, the strategies that enabled them to improve, and the continuing challenges that they face. The book first explores the context of schooling in Singapore and London, showing the differences and similarities between the two education systems. The research is presented as a series of case studies in the book's central chapters, and it concludes with a discussion of the improvement strategies adopted by the schools in relation to their different cultural contexts. The team found that many similar strategies were adopted by the principals of the four schools, but the different contexts in which they were operating meant that similar actions did not always lead to similar results.
They conclude that there is no single way of achieving school improvement, no simple recipe for turning round the kinds of schools exemplified in these case studies. While common factors in improvement include motivating staff, focusing on teaching and learning, enhancing the physical environment and changing the culture of the school, change cannot be imposed from outside: the will and the effort to change must come from within.
At the time of publication, Peter Mortimore was Director of the Institute of Education, University of London.