London’s schools are the success story of United Kingdom education, according to Steve Munby, who is chief executive of the CfBT Education Trust.
In the last 10 years, the performance of London’s schools has been impressive. London Challenge, which ran for several years until 2011, played a great role in bringing change to London’s education system. London Challenge was designed to improve outcomes for pupils in London’s primary and secondary schools at a faster rate than nationally, Munby writes in The Telegraph.
London’s school success is talked about as a universal phenomenon, flowing through GCSE attainment, Ofsted inspections, and university access. It has worked across different ethnic groups, boroughs, and most importantly, children from disadvantaged families.
The gap between rich and poor in London has been successfully narrowed when it comes to education. In other words, there’s a potential model here for a more equal, socially-mobile society, Munby writes.
The program injected fresh ideas and optimism into the system. It challenged the notion that disadvantage was inevitably associated with underachievement. The program’s major focus was improving the quality of school leadership, according to Munby.
Support for head teachers in low-performing schools was led by outstanding head teachers from other London schools. Of course, simply being good at your job does not mean that you can automatically help others. So a key ingredient for the success of London Challenge was the way that these consultant leaders were carefully selected, trained and deployed.
Currently, this method is being used in the rest of England. The best head teachers in England have been designated as National Leaders of Education and are working with underperforming schools all over the country. The methods that were pioneered successfully in London have become a standard way of providing support for school improvement, Munby writes.
London Challenge received additional funding, which was carefully managed and used. CfBT Education Trust worked the Centre for London to commission a new study to find out more about the improvement of London schools through interviews with some of the key people involved, and a careful evaluation of the statistical evidence.
Sir Tim Brighouse, who as London Schools Commissioner played an important role in setting up London Challenge, emphasized the way that London schools improved through both competition and collaboration. He stressed how important it was that the improvement was driven by professional analysis rather than a culture of blame.
Professor David Woods, who helped to shape the London Challenge project, said a relentless focus on teaching and learning was a key to its success. Dame Sue John, a London head teacher, talked about how London Challenge was data-driven. The conversation about school improvement was enhanced by the supply of powerful school performance data, comparing the often different performance of schools serving similar communities.
All of these experts agreed that London Challenge managed to harness the idealism of the school leaders of London, tapping into the ‘moral purpose’ that motivates most people in education.