>I think the competition would make the public schools better. Maybe I am just dreaming, though!

As an antidote to my experience of education in the UK which has generally been good (partly by chance and the fact I have been lucky in where I lived). There is another side to the difficulties faced by teachers in the UK:

In some areas, competing academically is the least of the problems faced by teachers. See this report of crime by minors in Peckam, London where the trial of Damilola Taylor did not result in any convictions yesterday. There are reports that the area was controlled by a teenage mafia who describe themselves as the "untouchables". They are so well aquainted with the way that the criminal justice system works that they can be caught but rarely can any action be taken against them.

The death of Damilola Taylor prompted the police, Southwark council and the other agencies in the deprived south London area of Peckham to take a long, hard look at themselves. They were shocked by what they found.
For a start, the youth crime figures were startling. From November 2000 when Damilola died to the following November, 4,228 offences were reported in the borough of Southwark - which includes Peckham - when both victim and perpetrator were under 18. Children as young as eight were bullying or carrying out street robberies.

Little had been done to try to find out what young, disaffected youths wanted or needed. Facilities for young people in the area were inadequate. Gang culture was poorly understood. The way problem youngsters were dealt with was unsatisfactory. The various agencies - police, social services, education - were simply not pulling together.