Teach First

London schools, the unexpected success story

There have been fewer greater developments in education than the extraordinary rise of the capital’s schools. Ten years ago no one would have predicted that children from disadvantaged backgrounds in London would outperform those in other parts of the country. However between 2003 and 2011 London schools have moved from being the lowest performing in England, to being the highest performing, and now have the highest percentage of schools rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

In the first decade alone the proportion of London pupils achieving five good GCSEs has increased from 45% to 81%, and over 63 per cent of A Level pupils eligible for free school meals in inner London, are now progressing onto higher education.

This extraordinary leap has not gone unnoticed by policy makers and those working in education. Researchers have analysed countless data in the hopes of discovering the magic ingredient in London’s success and the success of London’s schools have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. While some reports have pointed the finger at the changing demographic of London’s pupils and other contextual advantages exclusive to the capital, others have championed specific policy changes.

The latest research on the subject, Lessons from London Schools: investigating the success, a report by the CfBT Education Trust and the Centre for London thinktank, has suggested that improvements in London’s schools are not due to one single factor but to a combination of enabling factors. The report identified Teach First, along with improved support from local authorities, the academies scheme and the London Challenge as the four “key” enablers of London’s success.

There are still issues that remain

Although schools in London have made great strides in narrowing the attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier peers, we cannot become complacent. There are still areas in the capital where progress remains to be seen. Pupils on free school meals in Lewisham for example perform significantly lower than those same pupils in Kensington and Chelsea, with 39.9 per cent achieving 5 good GCSEs compared to the 79 per cent of free school meal pupils in Kensington and Chelsea. The same is true for free school meal pupils in Hackney and Camden, who are performing on average much lower than their peers in other boroughs. If we wish to make London the model for school improvement, than it is imperative that the improvements in London schools are reflected in the exam results of all its pupils.

What does London’s success mean for the rest of the country?

However, perhaps the best thing to come out of London’s success is the undeniable proof that with the right support and guidance, socio-economic background does not have to determine educational attainment. This is true even in schools outside of the capital. Pupils in Havelock Academy and Hastings Academy are achieving excellent results despite the challenges associated with the coastal areas in which they go to school.

What next for schools outside of London in underperforming regions?

We are incredibly proud of the contribution that our teachers have made over the last 12 years, and starting this September we will be sending just over 1400 more teachers to teach in schools serving in low income communities. In addition to this our growing ambassador community will be working in and outside of the classroom to find innovative solutions to tackling educational inequality.

Furthermore, we will be extending our eligibility criteria so that it adequately reflects both economic deprivation and educational performance.  This change will allow us to work with 10% more schools on the south coast and 6% more schools in the dispersed region of the East of England.

London’s success has sparked a growing wave of local improvement initiatives. Initiatives such as the Wales Challenge; Somerset Challenge; and North East Challenge, demonstrate that more and more people are coming to the realisation that all young people irrespective of background can fulfil their potential.