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Research report

Lessons from London schools: investigating the success

Sam Baars, Eleanor Bernardes, Alex Elwick, Abigail Malorite, Tony McAleavy, Laura McInerney, Loic Menzies and Anna Riggall

Research demonstrating that London schools have improved dramatically since 2000, at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country.

Pupils living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in London are more likely to achieve 5+ A*-Cs at GCSE (including English and mathematics) compared to their peers in the nearby South-East region. Schools serving disadvantaged pupils in London are more likely to have 'Outstanding' teaching and leadership than elsewhere in the country.

Key findings

The research shows that the success of London schools cannot be explained in terms of the 'contextual' advantages that London has over the rest of England - factors such as gentrification, ethnicity and opportunity.

The improvement was assisted by a set of factors that we describe as 'enabling', these include issues relating to resourcing: finance, teacher recruitment and school building quality. Improvement in these areas enabled improvements to flourish but London’s success was not fundamentally caused by these factors.

Four key school improvement interventions provided the impetus for improvement - London Challenge, Teach First, the academies programme and improved support from local authorities. Our research identifies common features that link together all of these interventions:

  • a focus on data and data literacy
  • the need for a culture of accountability
  • the creation of a more professional working culture
  • a collective sense of possibility and highly effective practitioner led professional development.

The improvement of London schools also depended upon effective leadership at every level of the system.

The research concludes with seven key lessons from the success of London's schools which could be applied throughout the UK and internationally:

  1. Ensure that policy is based on hard evidence of effectiveness
  2. Maintain a sustained and consistent policy momentum for change over time
  3. Use performance data systematically to make the case for change
  4. Transform underperforming schools through well-managed, sector-led school improvement activities
  5. Develop an effective 'middle tier' to support sector-led improvement activity
  6. Ensure that teaching is a career of choice for talented and idealistic recruits
  7. Apply pressure for change through allowing market entry to new providers of education services

This research was funded by CfBT Education Trust (now Education Development Trust) and carried out in partnership with Centre for London (link opens in a new window).