Building on yesterday’s post on research done by the FT on the success of London’s state schools, Lord Adonis, who was minister for education under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with special responsibility for academies and London schools, gives his insight into the reasons why in today’s Evening Standard, with a particular emphasis on the role of academies.
Mossbourne Academy in Hackney symbolises the transformation of London’s schools in the past decade.
The academy is on the site of Hackney Downs School, dubbed the “worst school in England” when it was closed by inspectors in 1995. Virtually no students were getting decent GCSEs, behaviour was appalling, and there was a mass flight of parents.
Then, eight years ago, an entirely new academy arose from the ruins of Hackney Downs. Not just new buildings but a completely new type of school: an academy managed independently of the council with ambitious teachers, a sixth form, a uniform, sport and extracurricular activities, and, in Michael Wilshaw, a no-nonsense head who is now England’s Chief Inspector of Schools.
Last year, more than eight in 10 of Mossbourne’s 16-year-olds got five or more good GCSEs including English and maths, among the highest scores in the country. Of the sixth-form leavers, nine got places at Cambridge and another 60 at the Russell Group of top universities. All this in one of Britain’s most deprived communities, with a non-selective intake.
In Hackney alone there are now five “sponsored” academies like Mossbourne and all 12 of the borough’s secondary schools are performing well. Fifteen years ago Hackney’s overall GCSE score was half the national average. Now it has reached the national average. “Hackney parents used to fight to get out of Hackney schools,” says a local MP. “Now they fight to get into them.”
For Hackney read London at large. London has England’s highest concentration of academies. It has the largest number of teachers from Teach First, the path-breaking scheme which this year recruited 1,000 top graduates to teach in challenging schools. It now also has the largest number of free schools open or under development, including schools like Peter Hyman’s School21 in Newham, Ed Vainker’s Reach Academy in Feltham, and Toby Young’s West London Free School (WLFS) in Hammersmith, whose mission is not incremental change but a transformation in standards and expectations to match private schools.
WLFS has been criticised for teaching Latin. It is rightly unashamed. Why should children have to go to private schools, like next-door Latymer Upper School with its fees of £15,000 a year, to learn Latin? As part of the change, leading private schools are collaborating with state schools as never before. A group of them including Eton, Highgate, and City of London are about to open a new state sixth form college in Newham — the London Academy of Excellence — aiming to get all its students into higher education. “Aspiration + hard work = a place at a top university” is its banner.
A lot of progress has been under the radar. The London Challenge programme, launched a decade ago, systematically partnered successful schools with struggling schools, including training and support for headteachers and help in recruiting staff to teach English, maths and science. “Make the best the norm” was the slogan.
This mentality has changed the face of London schools for the better. Like the Olympics, it makes you proud to be British — and proud, too, to be a Londoner.