The London Effect

Chris Smith, Student impact Coordinator SSAT, writes…

The good news seems to keep flowing from London. This week a new report revealed that it was the most popular city destination on the entire planet, with an expected 18.7 million overnight visitors expected this year alone. That’s more than the entire population of Holland and more than double the populations of Scotland and Wales combined.

London also continues its reputation as a city at the forefront of educational innovation – this week it hosted the inaugural international education reform conference. Quite the world hub.

And of course London schools have a lot to be proud of too. The capital has seen incredibly impressive improvements in student performance over the past decade. In particular, London schools have managed to close the much talked about attainment gap. It is a phenomenon that has been much heralded.

Whilst these facts have been well documented, the reasons for such marked success are not quite as clear. It is possible that the real reasons will never be fully understood – it is an incredibly complex picture. However, that does not mean that trying to understand what happened (and is still happening) in London is not worthwhile.

Two reports have been published recently that begin to shed light on the picture – both look to establish reasons for the success of London schools.

  1. Lessons from London Schools: Investigating the Success conducted by The Centre for London and CfBT Education Trust and
  2. Lessons from London schools for attainment gaps and social mobility conducted by The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) for the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

Interestingly the two draw somewhat differing conclusions. The IFS study points to the improvements made in primary schools across the capital as being the most important factor whilst the CfBT report highlights four key initiatives: ‘London Challenge, Teach First, the academies programme and improved support from local authorities.’ Interestingly, the IFS discounts the impact of these, claiming these initiatives, predominantly targeted at secondary schools, cannot explain the improvement in primary attainment.

That the reports differ is perhaps not surprising considering the complexities of the problem they were tackling and the different perspectives from which it was approached. Regardless of the differences though, the discussion and interest they have drawn and continue to draw, is an undeniably positive thing. The more we strive to understand how success is achieved, the more likely we are to find strategies that work and that can be used to inform policies and practices elsewhere.

It is important to remember that this isn’t just the case in London – it is something the entire country does well. Never before has engagement with research and informed debate about the profession been so prevalent. If this trend continues and we can learn from the success of London then who knows, perhaps visitors will venture outside the M25 as they come to learn about our fantastic school system. It’s a nice thought.

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