Students with low prior attainment: Inner London comprehensives do best

Henry Stewart's picture
The DfE has introduced a new key metric in the school league tables published today:

% of pupils with low prior attainment achieving 5+ A*-C or equivalents including A*-C in both English and maths GCSEs

Low prior attainment is, I understand, defined as those leaving primary school with a SATs result below level 4. This is an important figure, as it indicates the real value a school adds to those who have not done well at primary school. The data for local authorities shows that the best performing are those in inner London.

The national average is just 6.5% of students with 'low prior attainment' achieving  5% A*-C including English and Maths. Top of the table are Tower Hamlets on 23% and Hackney on 22%. Both are entirely comprehensive with no selection. Hackney does of course have several academies (although only two were included, the others having not reached GCSEs yet) but Tower Hamlets had no academies at all at this point. And the strongest scoring school in the two boroughs is Bethnal Green Technology College (then still a community school) - just ahead of Mossbourne - which converted a staggering 62% of low attainers.

Next comes Southwark on 21%, Lambeth on 20% and then the much-maligned Haringey also on 20%. Outside London the best is Slough on 14%.

How does this compare to the achievement in selective areas? These seem to be below average. Kent achieves just 6% and the well-regarded Trafford is even lower at 5%.

This is from a first look at the data but the message seems clear - the most successful schools in the country, in terms of helping the prior low achievers, are comprehensives in inner London.






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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 13:43

London LAs also outperformed the rest of the country on the % of disadvantaged pupils achieving 5+ A*-C or equivalent including A*-C in GCSE English and Maths. The average for the country was 34% - every London LA was above this figure.

Outside London the only LAs where schools achieved above the average on both measures were Birmingham, Manchester and Blackburn with Darwen.

So the question is: what is happening in London? Is it something (the London Challenge, for example) that could be replicated elsewhere?

Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:00

One answer to that question (what is London doing so well) is that providing good funding to education works. The inner London schools are better funded than the national average and it has delivered - in terms of better results especially - as you point out, Janet - for the disadvantaged.

Who'd, have thought it? Properly fund education and you get better schools.

A guest's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:09

Why do you think Mossbourne achieves 'a staggering 62%' of low prior achievers getting 5 A-C passes. Money? The way pupils are selected for the school? How much difference does it make if your low prior achievers are made up of a cohort who have just missed Level 4 as opposed to those who have struggled to reach Level 3?

Henry Stewart's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 15:42

If an intake was made up of high level 3s, it would clearly be easier to get them to 5 GCSEs EM than low 3s. But I doubt that is the explanation.

Both Bethnal Green Technology College (62% conversion) and Mossbourne (61%) are high-achieving comprehensive schools. But part of that success is indeed down to being well funded. Though they both use the money very well.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 16:10

Success has common features which are described by a Governor from a once-failing school on this site: an inspirational head, enthusiasm, parental support and gearing the curriculum to the pupils.

Mossbourne Academy demonstrates these features. It also uses continuous assessment and tailors strategies to pupils. Teachers meet regularly to discuss this and are expected to be responsible for the progress of each pupil in their care. These are features of the highly-successful Finnish system.

However, it is not these features which are publicised whenever Mossbourne is held up as a model for others to follow. What are constantly mentioned are the longer school day, the uniform and so on, not those listed above. However, the long school day isn’t actually much longer than in the thousands of schools. In the video below, the school day at Mossbourne is given as follows (about 9 mins in):

Key Stage 3: 8.30 – 3.10 Extension classes 3.10 – 4.10. KS3 pupils are expected to attend two every week.
Key Stage 3: 9.30 – 4.10. Extension classes 4.10 – 5.10.

Strip away the extension classes and the day is no longer than most secondary schools. Any school that operates an extended day (the majority) will also be offering the same extra time as Mossbourne. with the possible exception of Saturday mornings.

Mossbourne is also a fully-comprehensive school with a strict banding system. That ensures that 25% of the pupils are high ability and no more than 25% are at the bottom of the ability range.

This shows what can be achieved when the factors for improvement are present together with a fully-comprehensive intake. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country where selection occurs, a school can't be as successful as Mossbourne even if all the improvement factors are present because the top 25% have been creamed to attend other schools.

These features are found in schools throughout the country. So the question remains: why are ALL London LAs outperforming LAs in other parts of England?

Michael Sterne's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 16:18

I don't think you give enough credit to London Challenge. When Tim Brighouse initiated it, London schools were below the national average. Now they lead the country. London is the only national capital to have schools that are performing better than the schools in its country.

Alex Jones's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 16:42

By our governments logic then the best way to raise achievement for these children nationally, would be to convert all schools to comprehensives and move them to London.

If it works for Academies?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 26/01/2012 - 17:51

It's really great that the now Bethnal Green Academy has done so well. Yes, funding has made a big difference but I have to say that the staff should be commended for doing a great deal of extra work for no remuneration; Saturday lessons, after school lessons, numerous clubs and so forth. The spirit of the school is very much "we're not going to accept under-achievement". And crucially, the extra lessons/support provided isn't "targetted" in the sense that ALL students are allowed to attend extra lessons.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 27/01/2012 - 06:08

You can't seriously be advocating that teachers work on Saturday for free as a method of school improvement?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/01/2012 - 11:21

Leonard - that's just what the Government IS suggesting - longer school days, longer terms, Saturday lessons. Mr Gove recently cited evidence from Harvard which showed that charter schools in New York which opened for more days had better results. What he didn't say, of course, that the extra days offered by the NY schools brought the number of days of instruction to the English MINIMUM. In other words, English state schools already had a legal obligation to open for instruction on the number of days which equalled the NY schools' maximum.

The Extended Schools initiative meant that many schools open for longer. However, this shouldn't mean staff being expected to work for nothing. Unfortunately, academies like Mossbourne boast about the no-hours contract for new teachers (see video above) which means that staff have to be available when the school requires it although they are remunerated for the extra hours I believe.

Leonard James's picture
Fri, 27/01/2012 - 17:55

I know what the government are suggesting, I'd expect it from them. I wouldn't expect a classroom teacher to suggest the same thing unless they had sold out and joined SLT.

Part of the argument in this thread depends on acceptance of KS2 SATS as reliable and valid measures of something at a national level. When staistically described anomalies show up it's usually a good idea to check the ways in which the data might be unreliable or invalid. Comparing Hackney with Leeds, on any measures, is fraught with difficulites.

Otherwise the correlation between devoting more resources and achieving educational success is time honoured. The search for magic solutions like longer hours or national curriulum innovation has been long dishonoured by experience. Build well, recruit and train well, professionalise teaching and make serious study and research part of normal teacher development - and do it everywhere.

As long as we devote our politics to making something out of thin air we will only ever get ethereal successes, blown to the winds as soon as particular charismatic individuals move on.

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