A slightly more considered post than yesterday's, in response to some comments.
Two guiding assumptions:
a) any and every child naturally wishes to learn, and will do so autonomously and in a self-directed fashion unless other forces prevent that learning from happening;
b) an education system's sole purpose is to encourage and enable that learning, ie to act against the forces which prevent the learning from happening.
So what would I do, if I were given dictatorial powers over our education system?
1. I would abolish all qualitative grading.
2. I would abolish all age groupings.
3. I would abolish the time-structure of schools - in practice, I'd abolish all "schools" as presently constituted.
4. I would (so long as central funding continued to make sense) shift funding entirely onto a voucher scheme.
Qualitative grading - by this I mean giving marks from A to F. To my mind, all qualifications should simply be of the 'pass/fail' variety, in the same way as a driving test. Students can take the relevant test whenever they want, and when they can display the competency concerned, they get the little piece of paper saying so. No mess, no fuss, no grade inflation for political purposes (and grading should be completely independent of the government).
Age groupings - children (and adults) mature at different rates and in different ways - such is not news. Shoehorning people together according to their date of birth is arbitrary and has pernicious and destructive consequences, which only tend to be alleviated when a low teacher:pupil ratio allows a good teacher to provide the personal care which overcomes those consequences. Let the student, of whatever age, pursue their own interests and run with them. It works at the beginning of the educational process, and it works at the end - why do we think it essential to turn children into industrial feedstock in the middle?
Time-structure - we have an historical legacy leading to a raving mad pattern of organisation for educating. Long holidays for religious festivals and harvest; Fordism during the day. I would abandon these things completely. Students would seek a teacher able to give them tuition at the level and in the subject they desire. Similarly, teachers would seek students to whom they had something to give. Instead of schools there would be 'academies' (I wanted to think of a different word that didn't have present-day connotations but couldn't find one, and it is the correct word!) - something much more akin to a large library with lots of different services, open pretty much all year round, and most hours of the day, within which people can come and learn at the time and speed suitable for them. If it suits a teacher to gather some students together who are at the same level, and teach them as a group - fine (and either side can instigate that). Similarly, the teachers have total authority over how many students to take, and how they are to teach them. They could even band together if they so chose. The system I envision would, in short, have a lot more teachers (and give them a lot more power) and much less 'schooling' (see, Shlottie, I do actually rate teachers, on the whole ;-).
Vouchers - the money follows the student, and can be administered by the parents to begin with, but increasingly by the child as time goes on. The funding lasts for a lifetime, up to a certain level of attainment (first degree?). The funding is fine-grained, that is, it is meted out per "course module" or equivalent, not as a single grant per year. There are very few restrictions on what can be pursued, save that funding for some things are dependent on prior attainment, eg you can't be funded to read English Lit until you've attained the necessary language skill.
Of course, all of this is the academic side of education - hence they would indeed be academies - and education involves a great deal more than this. Yet I wouldn't see the responsibility for the wider education as resting with the teacher - it would return to where it belonged, to the parents and the wider community as a whole. If the time structure is abandoned then children would once more be a full and daily presence in people's lives, and that could only be a good thing.