I have written here
before about the remarkable transformation of Hackney education, over the nine years of the Learning Trust (responsible for Hackney's schools). August’s GCSE results confirmed a rising trend, with rise in of 3% (to 58%) in those achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. Mossbourne again led the way, with 82% achieving the benchmark.
Mossbourne has attracted a lot of attention over the past two years because their results had been achieved in an area of fairly high deprivation, with 41%
of students on free school meals (FSM). It was unique in achieving one of the highest figures for contextual value added, while focusing on core subjects like English, Maths and Science (rather than achieving it through BTEC and similar qualifications).
However Mossbourne is now not alone in its achievement. Just across the border in Tower Hamlets you will find two schools which this year have reached similar levels of achievement form even more deprived cohorts. At Bethnal Green Techn0ology College, with 53.8
% of students eligible for free school meals (FSM), 80% of all students achieved 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. At Sir John Cass, where 63.5%
are on FSM, fully 82% of their students achieved the benchmark.
These are remarkable figures, of a level that has probably never been seen before in this country in such deprived areas. It is especially impressive as it seems likely that these were achieved while focusing on core subjects. Even the 2010 results showed 79% of students at Bethnal Green and 98% of students at Sir John Cass achieving at least two Science GCSEs.
LSN co-founder Francis Gilbert can say more about Bethnal Green, as he recently chose to send his child there. But it has been far from the local school of choice in recent years and I believe Francis' choice was against the local trend (though that may now change). Two years ago Sir John Cass was in the top 3% for contextual value added in England, with 55% achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths. This year’s figures may place it at the very top, though it will compete with Bethnal Green for that accolade.
Mossbourne is, famously, an academy and Michael Gove has been fond of using this to explain its success. However it is very basic logic to understand that the statements “Mossbourne is an Academy” and “Mossbourne is successful” does not lead to the conclusion that “All academies are successful”. On Friday David Cameron sang the praises of inner city London schools Walworth Academy, with 70% achieving 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths), and Burlington Danes Academy, with 75%. He is right to congratulate these schools but he needs to look beyond the Academies to find the very best achievement.
As I have commented before, when I visited Mossbourne I was hugely impressed. But I put the success down to inspirational leadership, the highest expectations for all students, nurture groups for the less able, total focus on data and student progress, and support for any students falling behind. Little of this was due to being an Academy and the sponsor, now deceased, had little influence beyond choosing the headteacher.
I have yet to visit Sir John Cass and Bethnal Green so cannot give an explanation for their achievements but one thing that can be noted is that neither are academies. Sir John Cass is a foundation school. Bethnal Green is a community school. Both are good local comprehensives.
Government figures are keen to take lessons from far afield, flying to from Sweden and the USA to learn from their systems. Perhaps what they really need to do is look closer to home and take a short trip to the East End of London, to find what has caused the education miracle in two outstanding local comprehensives.
What distinguishes education in Hackney and Tower Hamlets from elsewhere? A possible answer was revealed in January, when comparative school funding figures
were released. The two boroughs with the highest per-pupil funding (though still well below the levels in the independent sector) were, you guessed it, Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Perhaps the answer is simple: One key to enable our young people to achieve their potential is to give decent levels of funding to our local schools.