Improving schools could be the key to social harmony (great is my faith) but here I want to talk about nuts and bolts - changing the curriculum to improve outcomes. The exclusive focus on academic achievement has to go, because what that means in practice is that some children monopolise success, and others mediocrity or failure. Consider the fact that in your local comprehensive probably half the children preparing to sit GCSEs have targets of C or lower. So the school's pitch is: 'try your hardest, and you could be average, or worse than average!'. How well do you think that is working?
Academic subjects are important and all students should study them. In fact, I think the EBAC (English, Maths, Science, a language and a humanity) is a great academic core. Yet students need to prepare for the world with more than pen and paper. That is why, in teams of five or six, every child should start a small business while at school. The skills they would learn in terms of team working, relationship building, independence and risk management are ones employers are crying out for. They would also learn something else, something that is far more precious: that you can be really successful by doing simple things well.
The reason we do not have practical learning like this is because it is too hard to assess. You cannot mark something until it is written down so qualifications we call 'vocational' are, in fact, clerical. Yet if students are doing something for real, no assessment is necessary. They can say to a prospective employer or university 'these are the skills I have, as demonstrated by these things that I have done'. We do not even need to invent a new form for presenting this information; we have one already, it is called a CV.
Very few students can aspire to be the most successful individual, but everyone can aspire to be a member of the most successful team. That is why this curriculum change is so necessary. Children in the middle of the pack academically would be motivated to try harder in those subjects because a solid grasp of English and Maths, combined with their practical experience, would make them a uniquely valuable asset to society. And they would have the CV to prove it.