London schools have improved their exam results by a third since 1990, a research study has revealed. But their better-than-expected performances may have been at the expense of primary schools.
The survey of 96 schools in 10 London education authorities discloses that attention and resources are being focused on GCSE performance and improvement.
Researchers from the Centre for Successful Schools at Keele University also found that improvement initiatives are weighted in favour of secondary schools.
The study, led by Gerry Gough from Keele, charts the GCSE performance of the schools since 1990. It found that most were doing better, with some more than doubling the number of pupils gaining five or more A*-C grade GCSEs. On average there was a 34.8 per cent improvement since 1990 and in eight out of 10 boroughs improvement was being sustained.
The survey was conducted for the Association of London Government to ascertain what authorities in the capital were doing to raise standards in their schools.
It found the most popular initiative was interpreting and analysing exam results. The second and third most common were aimed at raising GCSE and A-level performance.
Other widely used schemes were studies of parental perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of schools as well as targeting attendance.
Projects to raise literacy among primary pupils as well as teaching and learning strategies in primary maths were low down the list of 16 most frequently cited initiatives.
All authorities reported that their priorities had switched during the past two to three years from the management of schools to teaching, learning and attainment in the classroom. "With local management in place and school development plans well established, attention has moved to direct action on achievement," said the study.
It said several LEAs had set up formal initiatives with targeted funding, leaders and support staff and teams in schools working as catalysts for change.
Others avoided specific projects because they regarded work on school improvement as continuous.
A third group undertook reviews of particular phases or themes and then prepared reports with recommendations for improvement to be considered, adopted or amended by schools.
The study said the diversity of initiatives was welcome but claimed there was little evidence that targets for future performance either by LEA or school were yet well-developed.
It added, however, that Government performance tables with their focus on five or more grades A-C could be statistically misleading.
"For example it fails to differentiate performance among those who gained C or above. Thus if two schools achieve the same percentage of pupils gaining A-C, a school with many A grades among that group would be no better than one with a large number of Cs. It also fails to value pupil performance in the D-G range." It said the Government tables failed to recognise the "significant" educational progress made by London schools given their socio-economic background.