London schools’ progress ‘in danger of coming undone’

The dramatic progress of the capital’s schools since 2000 is being put at risk by the “waning” of much of the collaboration that came with the London Challenge, experts have warned.

A report from education charity CfBT Education Trust said the “huge gains” that schools in London had made over a 10-year period were now “at risk”.

Steve Munby, the charity’s chief executive, said the “essential mix of factors” that lay behind the capital’s educational success was “in danger of coming undone”.

Mr Munby said the shrinking role of local authorities risked undoing the progress that had been made since the start of the century. He added that the increased emphasis on individual schools’ accountability measures had caused a reduction in partnerships between schools, which had been crucial to the success of the London Challenge.

Under the London Challenge programme, launched by Labour’s education secretary Estelle Morris in 2003, schools in the capital were given extra funds, closer political scrutiny and civil service support in a bid to raise standards. Research published by the CfBT and the Centre for London last year found that, since 2000, London schools had improved “at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country”.

But Mr Munby said today: “So much of what made our capital’s schools more successful is now changing and the consequences are beginning to seep through.

“After all the work that went into turning around education in London, we simply cannot afford to let down our young people by allowing these improvements to fade away.”

He added: “Local authorities in challenging areas play less of a role than they used to. The National College for School Leadership brokers fewer relationships between schools, with pressure on headteachers now exceeding support.

“And the London Challenge that brought together the London Commissioner, ministers and officials to provide leadership and drive up standards has gone.”

Mr Munby said that “leadership, coordination and support” were crucial to school success and added that it was “concerning that in London these things are waning”.

“The full impact is as yet unknown, but with teacher recruitment targets being missed in the past two years, and the total number of teachers employed already going down, standards may become harder to maintain,” he said.

The warning comes alongside the publication of a CfBT report, Interesting Cities: five approaches to urban reform, which compares the London Challenge programme to school improvement schemes in New York, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Ho Chi Minh City.

The report finds that attracting talented people into teaching, applying pressure for change in underperforming schools and pairing strong schools with weaker schools are among “the key ways to improve education standards”.

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