The comprehensive school system is not working and children are suffering, says the man who ran the country's schools until last year.
Ralph Tabberer, the former director-general of schools, said not enough emphasis was put on scholarship and said that even teaching children the difference between right and wrong had been neglected.
He added that the increased involvement of the private sector was needed to rescue Britain's schools.
"We have tried a comprehensive system and that is not working," said Mr Tabberer.
"The clock is ticking. Everybody else is catching up because they haven't got the same struggle to reconcile fairness and excellence."
He told the Daily Telegraph: "How do you make that the focus of education, and also the development of character, to turn out people who know the difference between right and wrong?
"These are areas which are not getting enough attention in state policy and in the education debate."
Mr Tabberer was director-general of schools at the Department for Children, Schools and Families until last year.