Cleverlands, by Lucy Crehan

Cleverlands, by Lucy Crehan

What is the book about?

To write Cleverlands, Lucy Crehan, a frustrated inner-city London teacher, went around the world to the countries ranked higher in the PISA rankings to see what drives their educational success.

Exploring the education systems of Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Canada, Crehan explores a plethora of differences to the attitude and approaches to education within these high-achieving countries. The book presents a comparative analysis of five different education systems that perform exceptionally well in international assessments – and what other countries could learn from them.

Why read this book?

In an easily accessible, conversational style, Cleverlands offers a fascinating and comprehensive perspective on education systems, providing an in-depth exploration of their inner workings and shedding light on the core values that underpin their success. This captivating book goes beyond mere academic achievements and delves into the intricate interplay of cultural, societal and policy factors that contribute to the remarkable educational accomplishments of these countries.

Lucy Crehan does a great job in using her experience of travels and knowledge of research to communicate the differences between these systems as she effortlessly expands the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the world’s educational landscape.

Who is Cleverlands for?

In our opinion, this book is an essential read for educators, policymakers, researchers, and anyone interested in education and its impact on society. It provides valuable insights for those seeking to improve education systems and those interested in comparative education.

Evidence base

Crehan’s approach to gathering evidence was both comprehensive and immersive. She spent time living and working in the five top-performing school systems (Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, Canada, and Japan) covered in the book.

This allowed her to gain an in-depth understanding of the context that contribute to their success and how this manifests in day-to-day school life. On top of first-hand observations from Crehan, the books is packed with interviews with teachers, parents and educational leaders as well as research, document and data analysis.


Cleverland’s engaging and accessible style makes it easy for readers to connect with the content. The personal experiences and anecdotes provided by the author add a layer of relatability and make the book more engaging.

Lucy Crehan offers practical insights and solutions to educators, policymakers, and anyone interested in education. It weaves together Crehan’s experiences from her global journey with research on policy, history, psychology, and culture, providing a comprehensive view of the world’s top-performing education systems.

One of the key aspects of the book’s usability lies in its clear articulation of five core principles that underpin successful education systems:

  1. Getting children school-ready: Crehan emphasises the importance of preparing children for school early. This includes not only academic readiness but also social and emotional development.
  2. High expectations: The author underscores the significance of high expectations for all students, irrespective of their background or ability.
  3. Designing the curriculum for mastery: Crehan advocates for a curriculum designed for deep understanding and mastery of subjects rather than superficial knowledge. This approach allows students to fully grasp concepts before moving on to new material.
  4. Treating teachers as professionals: The author highlights the importance of valuing teachers as professionals and investing in their development. She notes that in the countries she visited, teachers were well-respected and given opportunities for continuous professional growth.
  5. Combining accountability with support: Crehan asserts the need for accountability in schools, balanced with adequate support. She suggests that schools should be held responsible for their performance, but they should also receive the necessary guidance and resources to improve.


This book provides valuable insights into how different countries achieve educational success, offering potential lessons for other countries. Whether you’re an educator seeking to improve your teaching methods, a policymaker looking to reform education policy, or simply someone interested in education, this book provides a wealth of useful information.

Value for money

Given the depth of research, the breadth of coverage, and the practical insights it offers, Cleverlands represents excellent value for money at just £8.99. It’s a worthwhile investment for anyone passionate about education.

Why we love this book

  • An in-depth exploration of education systems: Crehan’s first-hand experiences and observations provide a unique and insightful perspective that’s not often found in academic studies.
  • Practical insights: More than observations, this book also offers practical lessons and strategies that can be applied to improve education systems everywhere. The five core principles mentioned earlier provide a useful framework for understanding what makes these systems so effective.
  • Research-informed: The book is grounded in extensive research, including data from international assessments and interviews with teachers, students, and educational leaders.
  • A global perspective: Offers a global perspective on education, highlighting the diverse approaches to teaching and learning in different cultures.

Final thoughts

Lucy Crehan provides a compelling exploration of global educational practices that truly stands out in its field. This book succeeds in painting a comprehensive picture of what a high-performing education system looks like, and more importantly, why it works.

Cleverlands is an essential read for anyone interested in education. It challenges preconceptions, broadens perspectives, and provides practical solutions, all while keeping the reader engaged with its storytelling. Lucy Crehan has indeed delivered a remarkable contribution to the field of education with this book.

Our Review Summary

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Cleverlands by Lucy Crehan is a thoroughly researched dive into top global education systems. Drawing from first-hand experiences, Crehan provides an in-depth analysis of what amkes Finland, Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Canada top performing systems.

This book goes beyond academic achievements, exploring the complex interplay of cultural, societal, and policy factors that contribute to this success. With a robust evidence base, including observations, interviews, and data analysis, the book offers credible insights.

Ideal for educators, policymakers and researchers interested in comparative education and seeking practical recommendations for educational improvement.