London Schools report from the LSE: a response

2nd October 2015

Another piece was added to the London Schools research jigsaw this week with the publication of a new report by Jo Blanden, Ellen Greaves, Paul Gregg, Lindsey Macmillan and Luke Sibieta, examining the success of schools in the capital. I was particularly interested in the report having previously helped author a report on the capital’s schools with colleagues from LKMco, Centre for London and CfBT.

Extracts from my response below were published by Schools Week today.

“I really welcome this report which adds yet another piece to a fascinating jigsaw of evidence about a remarkable phenomenon. There have now been a whole series of reports each of which has looked at ‘the London effect’ from a different angle. Taken together they are starting to give us a really rich picture of what’s gone on.

The really valuable thing about this report is that it combines a series of different datasets and looks at differences in changes in attainment across the country. The report also includes a range of different attainment measures which helps mitigate ‘gaming’.

The report’s conclusion – that improvements were partly related to changes in pupil characteristics (as Simon Burgess found last year), but that something else has taken place within the school system too (as our own research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ last report suggested) – is nuanced and convincing.

The great thing about current research on ‘the London effect’ is that it can provide meaningful lessons about improving educational outcomes. However, the challenge now is to get under the skin of different initiatives and to focus on school improvement approaches rather than self-contained policies and programmes: in other words, rather than asking ‘did London Challenge work’, ‘does Teach First’ work or ‘do academies work’, research should focus on the approaches that these initiatives exemplify where successful. For example, this new report notes that improvements began before London Challenge and concludes that the Challenge can not have been the primary cause of school improvement. Whilst this is true to some extent, it is important to get ‘under the bonnet’ of London Challenge and to see it as a collection of different approaches to school improvement – including a combination of scrutiny, support and accountability; a focus on workforce development and a strong sense of social mission. All of these played an important role in pre-challenge school improvement in the capital too, whether through Excellence in Cities, the Inner London Education Authority or the work of pioneering Local Authorities like Tower Hamlets. Similarly Teach First helped bring additional highly motivated teachers into schools but so did borough-led initiatives that pre-dated it. One of the things we’ve tried to do in our research is therefore to ask ‘what approaches to school improvement have played a role?’ rather than ‘which programme caused the change?’ It’d be helpful if future research did so too.

Overall I very much welcome this report and hope it will lead researchers and policy makers to look both at pupil context and school improvement. Recognition of the former should encourage policy makers not to see schools in a vacuum whilst awareness of the latter should help spread the message across the country that schools have the potential to improve and succeed, regardless of their intake.”

If you want to read more about London schools, we’ve published a lot of blogs about them:

More than the sum of its parts: How London’s boroughs helped drive success By Loic Menzies

Is London’s schools success down to Microsoft and mobile phones? By Laura McInerney

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner: the role of area-level factors in the capital’s success. By Dr Sam Baars

Show me the money: Was London’s success all about extra funding? By Loic Menzies

How London learned from its teacher shortage By Laura McInerney

Professional Development and Professionalism: The symbolic role of CPD. By Laura Mcinerney

London Schools Now we have a full(er) picture… By Loic Menzies

Collaboration: It doesn’t happen by magic. By Loic Menzies

A pragmatic approach to the ‘middle tier’ By Loic Menzies

London Schools: The ethnicity debate. By Dr Sam Baars and Dr Meena Parameshwaran

You can download the full LKMco/CfBT/Centre for London report here