Our comparative study of Hackney sought to identify what lessons might be learned from Hackney's educational success and how they might be applied to 'areas of greatest need'.
As Teach First targets its work towards the areas where it can have the most impact, understanding what makes local contexts distinctive is key. Hackney is our comparative case study. Despite sharing high levels of deprivation with our other case studies, attainment within the area is higher than the national average and the attainment ‘gap’ between Free School Meal (FSM) students and non FSM students is significantly smaller than the national average. We wanted to find out what lessons, if any, could be learned an applied to areas of greatest need across the country.
A number of features of life in the area stood out. These include:
- High levels of poverty and deprivation in the area influences students’ experiences of school. For example, some older students undertake part time jobs to help their families, which can lead to students missing class and under attaining. Despite this, national data shows that educational attainment in Hackney schools ranks amongst the highest in the country. Parents described a shift from focusing on pastoral care to attainment. Parents perceived advantages and disadvantages to this.
- Religious, ethnic and cultural diversity was perceived as one of Hackney’s greatest strengths. Curriculums were designed to reflect this diversity and to increase young people’s respect for one another. Understanding this diverse context was indicated as important for teachers seeking to work in the area. There were some concerns that socioeconomic diversity had the potential to undermine the sense of local community. One example was house prices - some interviewees worried that permanent residents in Hackney would be priced out of the market and would have to move elsewhere.
- Collaboration was perceived as strong between schools, services and homes across the borough. Several interviewees named services they had used directly and the value this had offered.
- Whilst it was acknowledged by interviewees that there were jobs in London, respondents queried whether young people from the local area were genuinely able to access the most prestigious opportunities. Within Hackney itself, interviewees felt that appropriate employment opportunities were often lacking.
- As in other areas we visited, young people most often identified family members, especially parents, when asked who they looked up to. Young people admired the resilience of their role model and their caring natures.
Our study poses questions for Teach First about how we can learn lessons from Hackney's educational improvement and apply them to other 'areas of greatest need'. It also stresses some of the ongoing challenges for young people in Hackney, reminds us that London is not 'fixed' and requires ongoing attention.