Editorial - The simple truth behind the London miracle

27th June 2014 at 01:00

The turnaround of London's education system in the past decade can at first glance seem almost miraculous. A holy grail for all teachers and educationalists, if you'll forgive a little hyperbole.

This is the story of how a "world city", with all the social, economic and cultural challenges that come with that status, defied the educational odds to transform its schools from the worst performing in Britain to among the very best globally, in relatively short order.

This achievement is remarkable not just for London but for the whole of the developed world. As Chris Husbands, director of the University of London's Institute of Education, puts it, what we are analysing in today's TES is the "international school success story of the past 10 years". New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Berlin and the rest should be enviously looking at dear old Blighty and asking, for example, how its capital does so much better than large swathes of the rest of the country.

What they would find if they dug deep enough is that much of the explanation is not terribly complicated. London has benefited from a healthy recipe of good policy intelligently implemented, extra investment, great teachers and favourable socio-economic circumstances. As those meerkats say endlessly: simples.

Not so fast. Getting policy right is not easy, nor is ensuring that it is applied consistently for long enough to prove its worth. It is for this reason that the London Challenge - which correctly takes much of the credit for the success of the capital's schools - must be celebrated. Not complicated in its inception, this New Labour initiative aimed to encourage collaboration between schools in similar circumstances, plus the development of a pan-London network of school leaders, deep data analysis and effective city-wide leadership.

What was more extraordinary was that this rather simple idea was allocated consistent funding for the best part of a decade, was largely left alone by politicians and was led by a committed educationalist who understands how to motivate teachers, Sir Tim Brighouse.

Combine the success of this remarkably unremarkable initiative with the recruitment prowess of Teach First, the economic boom enjoyed by even London's poorest boroughs, large-scale immigration and a bit of extra cash, and Bob's your uncle.

But another lesson can be learned, too. London's results disprove the argument that macro policy makes little practical difference to micro classroom results. It is wrong to suggest that educational outcomes come down only to the standard of teaching in the classroom. If you get the policy right and a system aligned for improvement, then the best teachers will want to work within it. In essence, school improvement becomes a virtuous circle.

If you were to have suggested in the late 1990s that we were on the cusp of an era when inner-city London would be the place to work for an ambitious young teacher, you would have been laughed straight back to the Home Counties.

So perhaps we should set to one side Compare the Market's catchphrase and instead turn to another financial services advertising slogan. London, as Snoop Dogg says, is so moneysupermarket.



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