A new study, entitled Lessons from London Schools, confirms that since 2000 London’s schools have “dramatically improved at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country” – and it attempts to discover why.
It concludes that there has been no “magic bullet” and that the success cannot be put down to the contextual advantages that London has in terms of opportunity – it admits that resourcing, including finance, teacher recruitment and school buildings, has “supported school improvement”, but says it has not driven it.
However, the study, which has been undertaken by CfBT Education Trust and the politically independent think-tank Centre for London, does identify four “key school improvement interventions” that it says have helped.
The first, the London Challenge, ran from 2003 to 2011 and introduced a programme of collaborative support between London schools facing similar challenges. The second is the academies programme, which was introduced by the last government in 2002 and has been continued under the coalition.
The third, Teach First, places high-achieving graduates for two years as teachers in schools in challenging circumstances, was launched in London in 2003.
The fourth factor is described as “improvements in the quality of support and challenge provided by local authorities”.
Important common traits among the four, according to the research, included “a focus on data and data literacy”, “the need for a culture of accountability” and “highly effective practitioner-led professional development”.
Effective leadership at every level has also been crucial to London’s improvement since 2000, the researchers said.
The result has been that pupils living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in London are 50 per cent more likely to achieve five A* to Cs GCSEs (including English and maths) than peers in the South East. Also schools serving disadvantaged pupils in London are 48 per cent more likely to have “outstanding” teaching and 64 per cent more likely to have “outstanding” leadership than elsewhere in the country.
The study identifies seven “lessons” which it says the rest of the UK could learn from London:
Ensure that policy is based on hard evidence of effectiveness.
Maintain a sustained and consistent policy momentum for change over time.
Use performance data systematically to make the case for change.
Transform underperforming schools through well-managed, sector-led school improvement activities.
Develop an effective “middle tier” to support sector-led improvement activity.
Ensure that teaching is a career of choice for talented and idealistic recruits.
Apply pressure for change through allowing market entry to new providers of education services.
Tony McAleavy, director of research and development at CfBT, said the fact that London’s advantages did not drive its improvement should mean the success can be replicated elsewhere.
He added: “What we have been able to identify are clear defining characteristics that really made a difference to school improvement. It is by taking these characteristics and applying them to local context that can really have a significant long-term contribution to raising schools standards.”