This week children all over the county have returned to school after their summer breaks.  I congratulate all those children who were successful in their summer exams.  Steyning Grammar School saw 20 per cent of pupils getting A* or A grades and many will be going on to good universities.

In the South Downs we have good schools, but it is unfortunately true that this has not been the case in other parts of West Sussex.  Across England children are three times more likely to get straight A grades at an independent school than in the State sector.

That's why school reform is so important.  The academies programme has been accelerated, with more opened in the last year than in the previous decade.  Midhurst Rother College - where local parents wanted to see improvement - became the country's first rural academy school, and I was pleased to see that their GSCE pass rate A* - C rose this year by 12 per cent

We've also seen new academies opened in Littlehampton and Shoreham - and Littlehampton achieved their best ever GCSE and A-Level results this year.

The County's first free school, Discovery New School, a Montessori primary, has just opened in Crawley.  It follows Bolnore Village Primary School, also established by parent power.  Where village schools are over-subscribed, good new schools could be the answer.

Free schools will raise standards by giving all parents the chance to send their children to a high quality school run by teachers, not bureaucrats or politicians, with strong discipline and small class sizes.  They remain part of the state sector but allow parents to fill the gaps they can see in State provision.

We also need to focus on what is being taught in schools.  West Sussex MP Nick Gibb has been doing great work in reviewing the curriculum.  We have introduced the English Baccalaureate, recognising success by students in achieving GCSEs in English, mathematics, sciences, languages and humanities.

Any educational reform is about sowing seeds for the future.  It may be some time before we see the harvest of what we have begun.  But while we tackle the economic deficit we must address the social deficit too.  High quality schools, where opportunity is extended, are vital for this country's future.

Christopher N Howarth