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Pioneering comparison of education reform around the world

02 November 2015

Our latest report, Interesting cities: five approaches to urban school reform, is a pioneering comparison of the approaches used to improve school standards in five diverse cities around the world: London, New York, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Ho Chi Minh.

In the first study of its kind, Interesting cities found the key ways to improving education standards are:
  • appointing or electing a key figure to drive through a change agenda;
  • using 'big data' to identify and intervene where students are in danger of falling behind;
  • forging strong coalitions between parents, teachers and professional bodies;
  • making teaching a career of choice: adopting innovative ways of attracting talented people into teaching;
  • increasing both accountability and support for teachers with improved training;
  • applying pressure for change in underperforming schools;
  • ensuring school-to-school collaboration, pairing strong schools with weaker schools, helping the latter improve.
Following the report, Steve Munby, CEO of CfBT Education Trust highlighted how much is at stake for London's school standards: 'London was a case study for Interesting cities but so much of what made our capital's schools more successful is now changing – and the consequences are beginning to seep through. Local authorities in challenging areas play less of a role than they used to. The National College for School Leadership brokers fewer relationships between schools, with pressure on headteachers now exceeding support. And the London Challenge that brought together the London Commissioner, ministers and officials to provide leadership and drive up standards has gone.

'We know from Interesting cities that leadership, coordination and support are crucial – so it is concerning that, in London, these things are waning. The full impact is yet unknown, but with teacher recruitment targets being missed in the last two years, and total number of teachers employed already going down, standards may become harder to maintain.'

Munby also drew direct attention to the broader lessons from the report's findings, saying: 'There is much to be learned from the cities in this report – including London – that can be transferred to other cities in the UK and abroad. They have shown, despite their varying contexts, their common approach can indeed help bridge the attainment gap between wealthier and poorer students, and we would urge politicians, city leaders and education experts worldwide to apply, and most importantly sustain, the lessons contained in this report.

'As we found in our case study cities, improving learning outcomes is always a huge challenge – especially in big urban areas where the population is diverse and often transient. That's why the positive findings of this report are so exciting. The modern economy benefits from innovation and disruption. This system shows that the education system can too.

'After all the work that went in to turning around education in London, we simply cannot afford to let down our young people by allowing these improvements to fade away. Despite all the economic, cultural and educational differences that exist between the five cities in our report, improved standards stemmed from a similar, collective ethos, familiar to all of us who were part of the London transformation. By providing strong leadership and applying a theory of change, struggling schools can be turned into good schools, helping children from low income homes in particular to compete with more privileged peers.

'The lessons in this report must act as a wake-up call to those involved in UK education. We want to give leaders in cities around the world the opportunity to learn from them, replicate them, and raise standards for their students too.

'If as a result of this report Cairo, or Manila or Mexico City are inspired to fulfil their potential, how demoralising would it be to see London schools failing to capitalise on their great achievements since 2000? This study explains success. We are urging city leaders to read these findings and act now.'