Executive Summary
Making Sense of Policy in London Secondary Education:
What Can Be Learned From the London Challenge?
The challenge for secondary education in London in 2002 was that this poorer
performance of schools and its considerable...
Chapter One
The London Challenge: a Policy Response to the Problem
of Under-Attainment in London Secondary Schools
• The London leader, which included professional development for teachers, the
Leadership Incentive Grant and the appoin...
During 2011, the effects of the policy still continued to show with London’s secondary
schools gaining 61% 5+ A* - C wit...
remedial approach where necessary, headteachers together with the London Challenge
advisers developed an approach to the...
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Making Sense of Policy in London Secondary Education: What can be Learned from the London Challenge? (Executive Summary) - Vanessa Ogden


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Making Sense of Policy in London Secondary Education: What can be Learned from the London Challenge? (Executive Summary) - Vanessa Ogden

  1. 1. 1 Executive Summary Making Sense of Policy in London Secondary Education: What Can Be Learned From the London Challenge? Vanessa Ogden, July 2012 Preface Writing this thesis was an iterative process involving a dialogue between my research and my practice. The Doctor of Education degree offers an opportunity for practitioners to interact with literature and empirical research at doctoral level, creating new knowledge about professional work in education. There is a professional imperative for educators to be informed about their field at higher level and to become ‘expert practitioners’. It is in this spirit that the thesis was undertaken. The thesis is relevant to my own professional context in two main ways. First, it concerns school leadership in secondary education in London, an urban environment with specific challenges to do with the relationship between education and place. For example, there are many London communities in which affluence sits cheek by jowl with poverty. This has a profound effect on schools and the dynamics that affect them. Second, it concerns the policy environment in which school leaders have to operate. Contemporary education changes rapidly and understanding more about the historical socio-political context of education and its current policy is essential in managing this effectively as a headteacher. In the midst of what can seem like a ‘primeval soup’ of different policy ideas and a constant stream of policy initiatives, headteachers have to distinguish priorities for their schools and to select those which they will implement. Potentially this gives headteachers significant power over the success of education policies like the London Challenge. What do policy-makers need to consider when creating a policy in such a way as to ensure that it is implemented faithfully by practitioners? This thesis provides a case study of the London Challenge seeking to explain why it was successful. The findings are revealing about policy-making in education. They show that if policy-makers create the right conditions then practitioners can lead system-wide transformation in schools for the benefit of all a region’s children. Introduction London’s Challenge in 2002 This thesis examines the London Challenge, a policy introduced in 2002 to address the under-performance of London’s secondary schools compared to every other region in England. It was designed to raise standards and effect system-wide school improvement. During the policy’s eight year duration, London moved from being the worst performing to the highest performing region in England at KS4 and the between-school variation which had dominated London’s secondary schools was significantly improved.
  2. 2. 2 The challenge for secondary education in London in 2002 was that this poorer performance of schools and its considerable local variation was exacerbated by contextual factors and a growth in social polarisation. At the turn of the twentieth century, London was more populous, diverse and wealthy than it had been but divisions between rich and poor were wider than ever as affluence in housing as well as salaries was distributed unevenly. Competition to gain entry to certain schools affected property prices since those that could afford to could move house to do so. Changes in wealth and class in an area became associated social dynamics of schools in such a context, creating a cycle which deepened the problems for schools that performed poorly. A social policy structure for public service which used competition as a means of raising standards had been a key force in education since the 1980’s. Whilst there are strong arguments about the success of market competition in improving public services, in the ecology of London however, with the added ingredient of a comprehensive public transport system and the moral hazard of ‘cream-skimming’ amongst popular schools, it created a tale of ‘survival of the fittest’. Secondary schools in areas of social and economic disadvantage suffered deepening social exclusion in such a situation, as did their communities. There was a range of very practical difficulties for London’s secondary schools too, despite considerable investment in education between 1997 and 2002. They were: • Significant under-performance and between-school variation in five inner London boroughs that persisted – Haringey, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth and Southwark • Variable quality of teaching in schools and a growing shortage of teachers, especially in science, maths, English and MFL • The need for improvement in leadership – it was recognised that London headteachers were as effective as those elsewhere but that the challenges of running a London secondary school could be far greater. Retention problems had weakened the pool of effective middle leaders • Many schools in difficulty were situated in areas considerable regeneration and additional support was needed for communities and young people With such fundamental educational issues to deal with in such a complex urban setting, any policy intervention for London had to be both uncompromising and comprehensive. Yet, although it was both these things, the London Challenge when it was launched in 2003 seemed to be a sort of ‘bricolage’ of existing policy initiatives rather than a radical, innovative approach. What actually happened in practice, however, as the policy was implemented meant that the London Challenge evolved taking on a different character. It was a significant factor in the policy’s success. The London Challenge is regarded by many to have been one of the most successful education policies for school improvement. It transformed London’s secondary schools which for years had been affected by a long tail of under-achievement by pupils in urban schools which was directly related to social disadvantage. This thesis seeks to explain why.
  3. 3. 3 Chapter One The London Challenge: a Policy Response to the Problem of Under-Attainment in London Secondary Schools Significant challenges were to be found socially, economically and demographically which made London both a city of great advantage and of great inequity. This social polarisation had a deep effect on London secondary schools and it was described in the first policy text of the London Challenge, launched in 2003. Teachers did not want to teach in London and the challenge of headship in many of the city’s secondary schools was not attractive. Following election to a second term in office, the Prime Minister Tony Blair turned his attention to London. For the nation’s capital city to have the worst performance in schools was unacceptable and it was being forced home to MPs who were trying to choose a secondary school for their children – Harman, Abbott and Blair himself. In early 2002, a civil service team led by Jon Coles was appointed to explore the problem. Extensive research was carried out and the data clearly demonstrated patterns of under- attainment including a long corridor of challenge that ran along the Thames from central to East London that corresponded with areas that had previously thrived on industries connected to the docks – industries that has disappeared in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In this ‘murky’ period of ‘pre-decision’, Estelle Morris who was Secretary of State for Education was of the view that a special approach for London was needed with strong leadership by someone who understood the challenge. This led to the appointment of Tim Brighouse as leader of the London Challenge in late 2002. During this time, a group of key London secondary headteachers became involved behind the scenes such as George Berwick, Alan Davidson and Vanessa Wiseman. Coles and Brighouse worked together on the policy text of the London Challenge and in spring 2003, the policy was formally launched. The policy’s proposals presented a series of differentiated approaches towards London secondary schools. There were three key groups, referred to as priority areas: • Priority One were the five inner London boroughs which required the most extensive support; • Priority Two was a group of seriously under-performing schools scattered across all London boroughs, known as the ‘Keys to Success’ schools; and • Priority Three which constituted all remaining London secondary schools. In the policy, there were a range of different options for action that could be put together in a tailored programme relevant to schools in each group. These options were categorised under four themes: • The London teacher, which included financial incentives to stay in London and Teach First
  4. 4. 4 • The London leader, which included professional development for teachers, the Leadership Incentive Grant and the appointment of a London Schools Commissioner (later known as the Chief Advisor for London Schools) • The London school, which included structural change through academy status, specialisation or the involvement of business and industry. It also included the expansion of the Extended School programme which was aimed at disadvantaged communities and provided ‘joined-up’ public service provision • The London student, which included a London-wide transfer system from primary to secondary, free travel on London’s public transport system and initiatives such as the London Gifted and Talented Centre and the Behaviour Improvement Programme. Which school merited which approach was s decision made by the London Challenge team – a team of civil servants, eight London Challenge Advisers and Brighouse who all reported directly to Stephen Twigg, Minister for London Schools. All decisions were based on performance data, Ofsted reports and local intelligence. The policy cut through the Local Authorities’ responsibilities for schools’ performance, creating a bespoke programme for each targeted school in accordance with need using every available resource. According to Ofsted, the successes showed early on. A number of evaluations of the London Challenge took place which demonstrated its growing impact. Two studies of the leadership strategy of the London Challenge, one in 2005 by Peter Earley et al. and another by Peter Matthews et al. in 2006 made clear the positive impact of the London Challenge on school improvement. Ofsted in 2006 reported that standards in London were rising faster than anywhere else in England and that Ofsted judgements graded a significantly higher proportion of London secondary schools as good or better for overall effectiveness. In 2005, London began to surpass the national average at GCSE and by 2007, London was out-performing every region. In addition, pupils in London on FSM and living in the most socio-economically disadvantaged circumstances out-performed their peer counter- parts everywhere else. In 2009, which saw the last set of summer GCSE results published while the London Challenge was still ‘live’, using the IDACI measure, 43.9% of pupils in the highest decile of income deprivation attained 5+ A* - C with English and maths whereas in every other region except the East Midlands, performance for this group was well below 30%. In the South East, London’s nearest region, the figure was 25.5%. In 2009, the annual improvement rate for London secondary schools between 2003 and 2009 was 5% compared to a national annual improvement rate of 2.6% and no schools were below the original floor target of 25% compared to 70 in 2003. At the end of the policy’s life in 2010 after nearly eight years’ duration, Ofsted found that 30% of London LA secondary schools had been judged to be ‘Outstanding’ compared to 17.5% in the rest of England and only 2.4% of LA secondary schools in London had been judged inadequate compared to 4.1% in the rest of England.
  5. 5. 5 During 2011, the effects of the policy still continued to show with London’s secondary schools gaining 61% 5+ A* - C with English and maths compared to the national average of 58%. A 2011 report by Wyness made the direct link between the quality of London’s schools and their significantly higher performance taking into account all contextual factors. Although the statistical evidence presents a strong case for the success of the London Challenge, this needs interrogation. Educational change in schools is complex and tracing the cause to the effect is not easy. There were many pre-existing policy initiatives from which the 2003 London Challenge was constructed. Usually there is a time lag between introducing structures for change and achieving the changes that are desired. Yet, the policy’s impact was claimed to be evident early on. There is no doubt that some pre-existing policy initiatives had an influence on the London Challenge’s early successes, such as Teach First which helped to address problems with recruitment in London secondary schools. However, in 2010 Ofsted’s report attributed London’s successes directly to the London Challenge. One of the most successful initiatives was the Keys to Success programme, designed to tackle between- school variation in London targeting schools which initially in 2003 were below the floor target of 25% A* - C or which were in a category. Fundamentally the approach was new. It was a bespoke programme with a tailored approach for each school and the central involvement of practising London leaders, so whilst the 2003 text hailed the policies of the day the policy’s approach evolved and became centred on this model of ‘school to school support’. The London Challenge evolved considerably between 2003 and 2010. Although it was presented in the 2003 policy text as a top-down, centrally driven strategy for improvement by contrast in 2010, it had become a practitioner-led model based on high accountability paired with professional autonomy. All twelve programmes set out in the 2010 policy text were practitioner-led. There were several important features in this practitioner-led model of system-wide school improvement. They were: • The quality of the London Challenge advisers and consultant headteachers leading the London Leadership Strategy – their competence, credibility and high level of professional knowledge and skills was fundamental • The importance of accountability for results by supporting schools, of the bespoke nature of the support and of the matching process. This involved data scrutiny, contractual arrangements between headteachers and good matching using good local intelligence and EQ • A shared language which described a strong sense of corporate responsibility for London’s children and which focused on the collegiate nature of the task rather than blame. The language that was used and the culture of the approach were significant factors in the success of the London Challenge. The importance of practitioner leadership in this way in the successes of the London Challenge was highlighted in the 2010 Ofsted report. Whilst there still existed a forceful
  6. 6. 6 remedial approach where necessary, headteachers together with the London Challenge advisers developed an approach to their work which expressed values and beliefs about mutuality and professional reciprocity. There are two comments to make as the discussion moves forward to the next chapter. The first is that the London Challenge did not evolve in a coherent and linear fashion; it was dialectical and its evolution was influenced by many socio-political factors. The second is that the role of practitioners – particularly the headteachrs and London Challenge advisers – was central to the evolution and success of the policy. The next chapter explores the policy process of the London Challenge. It provides a theoretical examination of the London Challenge, explaining the dialectical nature of the policy, suggesting how these dynamics related to the evolution of the policy and why the role of the practitioner emerged with such significance.