For the government, it seems to be to hark back to a nostalgic view of the past. So Michael Gove has come out in favour of a 1950s exam system for secondary schools, and Victorian-era rote learning at primary school.
Clearly, neither is going to prepare this generation of young people for the pressures of the modern economy.
80% of the debate about school improvement focuses on structures, rather than standards, despite the fact that research from the Institute of Education shows they make less than 8% of the difference in results. So the media, ministers and some on the left are obsessed with free schools and academisation.
In fact, 80% of the difference in standards comes from the quality of teacher in the classroom, not whether 'free school', 'academy' or community school is painted on the sign outside.
Of course changing a school's structure can be a galvanizing force for change - helping to bring in new staff and leadership to a failing school, and focusing on improving standards. Labour did a huge amount to encourage this change during our time in office, setting up academies in some of the toughest neighbourhoods in England.
But ultimately, it is the quality of the teachers and head-teachers that actually improve results.
Professor Dylan Wiliam from the Institute of Education has found that in the classrooms of the best teachers, students learn at twice the rate they do in the classrooms of average teachers.
I'm reminded of the importance of teaching quality this week, on what is the 10th anniversary of Teach First, the charity that Labour supported to get more graduates into the profession. This fundamentally changed the debate about teaching, encouraging high-fliers to see it as an attractive career choice. It turned George Bernard Shaw's dictum on its head, by declaring that "those who can, teach".
Teach First is creating, equipping and mobilising a movement of leaders with a life-long commitment to raising the achievement and aspiration of children from low socio-economic backgrounds. In the last ten years, Teach First has helped 2,500 top graduates get into the profession.
Ten years from now, there will be over 10,000 Teach First ambassadors, each with a unique insight, expertise and commitment.
Teach First has done much to change perceptions of the teaching profession. This year Teach First was placed fourth in The Times newspaper's list of the Top 100 graduate employers.
It also has a high retention rate, something which is a serious problem in teaching. Over 90% of those who start the Summer Institute on average complete two years of teaching - higher than any other route into teaching in the UK.
Sadly, the Government seems more interested in talking down the profession, characterising them as "whingers" or the "enemies of promise".
Instead, they should be focused on how we can attract more quality applicants to the profession, improve the quality of training and on-the-job development, and allowing peer inspection and more collaboration between teachers.
Uxbridge High School is a great example of the success of Teach First. Serving one of the most deprived areas of West London, 31 Teach First teachers have joined Uxbridge since 2003. 17 are still working at the school today; five are in leadership positions. Although several factors were at play, the results have been impressive: In 2003, just 17% of pupils achieved five good GCSEs, including English and Maths. This year the number was 61%.
As well as in England, I believe there is much we can learn in terms of raising standards from countries like Finland and Japan - when it comes to raising the status and quality of both teachers and school leaders.
In Finland, teaching is seen as an elite profession akin to being a surgeon or a lawyer. Only one in ten of every applicant will make it to the classroom. We need to do far more to raise both the quality and status of the profession.
And in Japan, teachers collaborate on lesson planning through a system called jugyou-kenkyuu, which allows professionals to share the best ideas in a process which is scrutinised in public demonstrations of lessons.
As part of Labour's Policy Review, we are examining radical ideas to raise teaching standards across the board. This includes strengthening teacher training and on the job development, but also ensuring we get more quality applicants to the profession.
Teachers make the difference. We all remember a good teacher - mine was the inaptly named Mr Coward - my economics teachers who encouraged me to become the first pupil from Southgate Comprehensive to get into Oxford.
What I want to understand is how we can ensure there are quality teachers across the system who aim high for all their pupils.
Stephen Twigg is a taking part in a Teach First/RSA 'Education Matters' debate this evening on 'Is Education the Answer to Social Mobility? Listen/watch live here.
Follow Stephen Twigg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StephenTwigg