The secret of the success in London’s schools? It’s down to the capital’s primaries, new research concludes

The high performance of London’s primaries has been key to the success of the capital’s schools system, a new research study has found.

Almost half (48 per cent) of children on free school meals in London obtained five or more A*to C grades in their GCSEs in 2013 compared with less than a quarter (22 per cent) in 2002. Gains were smaller among their peers outside the capital, with only 26 per cent achieving equivalent results in 2013 compared with 17 per cent in 2002.

New work published today, by researchers at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), concludes that the rise in performance of disadvantaged children in London in comparison with those outside is because of a number of steady improvements in the capital’s schools.

Key to these advances is primary education. The reseach concludes that progress in that sector played a major role in later improvements in secondary schools. Findings show that disadvantaged pupils in London are not ahead at age 5, but once they get to school they make faster progress than their peers outside the capital.

Luke Sibieta of the IFS said: “London schools have become synonymous with educational success, particularly for poorer children. Our research shows that these improvements are not down to a single policy or factor.

“Instead, most of the improvements reflect gradual increases in the quality of schools stretching back to the mid-1990s. London’s primary schools have become particularly successful and London’s great secondary schools can then build on this success.”

The research found that pupils from poorer backgrounds are entering secondary school with better test scores at age 11. Around 47 per cent of poorer pupils in both inner London and the rest of England in 1997 achieved the expected level in English tests at age 11. By 2008, poorer pupils in inner London were 7 percentage points more likely than their peers to achieve this standard (75 per cent for inner London compared with 68 per cent for the rest of England).

The reasons for the success of London’s schools has been the subject of often heated debate, with many reseach studies coming up with conflicting explanations.

But Jo Blanden, one of the researchers working with CASE, said it was simply down to very good schools: “London’s schools have become extremely good at helping poor children succeed. This is despite the incredible diversity of their pupils. This success is likely to lead to better jobs and more social mobility among those educated in the capital.”

The working paper “Understanding the improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in London” will be published by LSE’s Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) later this morning

Reporting by Ellie Busby

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