Gove says the number of academies in London is responsible for the success of London schools. But it isn’t true.

Janet Downs's picture
London is a “very, very special place”, says Secretary of State, Michael Gove, because it’s the only capital city in the world where results in its schools are better than the national average.

Gove says it’s because so many London secondary schools are academies. But converter academies haven’t been around long enough for them to be responsible. And research has found no evidence to show that sponsored academies caused London’s success. So what IS the reason?

Is it because of the special characteristics of London children: the large number of high-performing immigrant children or greater ambition felt by all London pupils? The answer is No. In the early stages London children do no better than children elsewhere but their achievement rises at a faster rate than children outside the capital as they move through school. This “London advantage” also helps pupils who move into London. At the same time, pupils that leave the capital achieve less than would be expected based on prior achievement.

So, London’s success is not because of the number of academies or the special characteristics of London children. What’s the secret, then? Is it higher school funding in London?

No, because the extra funding is not spent on additional staffing or resources. It pays the higher salaries of London teachers. And class size in London is slightly above the national average.

So, it’s not the number of academies, the special characteristics of London children or higher school funding. What, then, accounts for London’s success? Professor Merryn Hutchings* has identified the X Factor. It was the London Challenge.

The London Challenge, led by Tim Brighouse, began with secondary schools in 2003 and then with primary schools in 2008. This initiative and its nationwide equivalent, the City Challenge (2008-11), were very successful in improving schools. This was particularly so in London where the Challenge lasted the longest.

A key factor in the success of City Challenge was the belief that if teachers are to inspire their pupils they must also be inspired and motivated. The Challenge recognised that schools tend to thrive when they feel trusted, encouraged and supported. This approach contrasts with much political and media discourse in which “failing” schools are named and shamed.

But Gove says London’s success is because of academies. It isn’t. And Gove promotes academies as if they are the only kind of school that breeds success. They aren’t. Of the eleven London schools that didn’t reach the benchmark in 2012, three were sponsored academies and two were converters. And Henry Stewart’s research, endorsed by the Academies Commission, found that sponsored academies do no better, and sometimes worse, than similar non-academies.

But Gove says that London’s success is solely down to the number of academies. This isn’t true.

Every time Gove puts the success of the London Challenge down to sponsored academies he needs to be told. It isn’t true.

And every time lazy journalists and bloggers trot out the Gove line about academies, they need to be told. It isn’t true.

*Professor Merryn Hutchings, Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University

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